Skip to main content

Full text of "Influences of negative external stressors on cognitive processes within marital relationships"

See other formats


INFLUENCES OF NEGATIVE EXTERNAL STRESSORS ON COGNITIVE 
PROCESSES WITHIN MARITAL RELATIONSHIPS 















By 
LISA A. NEFF 



A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE 

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE 

REQUIREMENTS FOR THE 

DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY 

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 

2002 



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 
I would like to thank the members of my committee, Benjamin Karney (chair), 
Barry Schlenker, Dolores Albarracin, Greg Neimeyer and James Algina, for the time and 
insights they have provided to this project. 






11 



TABLE OF CONTENTS 

page 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ii 

ABSTRACT v 

INTRODUCTION 1 

LITERATURE REVIEW 5 

Stress and Relationship Quality 5 

Stress and the Individual: Spillover Effects 6 

Stress and the Partner: Crossover Effects 8 

Critique of the Literature on Stress and Relationship Weil-Being 9 

The Mechanisms Underlying Stress and Declines in Relationship Satisfaction 11 

Stress and Cognitive Content 13 

Stress and Cognitive Structure 15 

Incorporating the Dyad: Additive and Interactive Effects of Intimates' Stress 18 

Is Stress Always Bad? Stressful Life Events and Longitudinal Outcomes 21 

Overview of the Current Study 24 

Review of Hypotheses 26 

METHOD 29 

Participants 29 

Procedure 30 

Materials 31 

Data Analysis 36 

RESULTS 38 

Descriptive Statistics and Correlations 38 

Do Spouses' Specific Relationship Perceptions Mediate the 

Stress Spillover Process? 43 

Hypothesis la: The Stress Spillover Hypothesis 44 

Hypothesis lb: Specific Perceptions and the Stress Spillover Process 45 

Does Spouses' Cognitive Organization Mediate the Stress Spillover Process? 49 

Hypothesis 2a: Stress and Cognitive Organization 50 

Hypothesis 2b: Cognitive Organization and the Stress Spillover Process. ... 54 

Do Spouses' External Stressors Interact to Affect Marital Satisfaction? 57 

iii 



Hypothesis 3a: The Stress Crossover Hypothesis 57 

Hypothesis 3b: Partners' Own Stress and the Stress Crossover Process 60 

Is Stress Always Detrimental to Relationship Outcomes? 61 

Hypotheses 4a and 4b: Coping, Satisfaction and Stress Spillover 61 

Hypothesis 4c: Initial Coping and Future Coping 66 

DISCUSSION 74 

Study Rationale and Summary of Results 74 

Strengths and Limitations of the Study 82 

Marriage as a Safe Haven: The Successful Adaptation to Stress 86 

Two Routes to Change in Satisfaction: Expanding the Model 88 

Directions for Future Research 89 

Conclusions 90 

APPENDIX 

A SEMANTIC DIFFERENTIAL MEASURE 

OF MARITAL SATISFACTION 92 

B INVENTORY OF SPECIFIC MARITAL PROBLEMS 93 

C INVENTORY OF SPECIFIC RELATIONSHIP STANDARDS 94 

D RELATIONSHIP ATTRIBUTIONS MEASURE 98 

E SURVEY OF LIFE EVENTS 100 

REFERENCES 1° 6 

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 112 



IV 






Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in 
Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy 

INFLUENCES OF NEGATIVE EXTERNAL STRESSORS ON COGNITIVE 
PROCESSES WITHIN MARITAL RELATIONSHIPS 

By 

LISA A NEFF 

May 2002 

Chairperson: Benjamin R. Karney, Assistant Professor 
Major Department: Psychology 

Traditionally, most research on relationship maintenance has focused on the effect 

of intrapersonal factors on relationship outcomes. What this perspective overlooks, 

however, is that part of maintaining a relationship involves navigating the negative 

stressors external to the relationship that may nevertheless strain the relationship. 

Consequently, the effects of intrapersonal factors on relationship outcomes may not be 

able to be fully understood without reference to the stressful circumstances surrounding 

the relationship. The goal of the current study was to examine the interplay between 

external stress and spouses' cognitive processes over the course of a continuing marriage. 

Newlywed couples reported on their stress and their relationship cognitions over the first 

VA years of marriage. Results confirmed the prediction that stress affects marital 

satisfaction through its effects on the content and organization of spouses' specific 

relationship perceptions. Within-subjects analyses revealed that increases in spouses' 

stress were associated with decreases in their marital satisfaction over time. Moreover, 



spouses' cognitive content and cognitive organization seemed to mediate this effect. As 
spouses' external stress increased, they tended to report more specific problems within 
the relationship. Similarly, as spouses' stress increased, they also tended to organize their 
specific relationship perceptions in a less relationship-enhancing manner. Thus, external 
stress seems to lead to declines in satisfaction not only by providing spouses with more 
negative perceptions of the marriage, but also by affecting spouses' ability to 
subsequently cope with this increase in negative perceptions. Support for the prediction 
that each spouse's stress would interact to affect marital satisfaction was not found. 
When controlling for spouses' own stress, the stress experienced by the partner did not 
have an additional influence on spouses' satisfaction. Finally, some evidence suggested 
that spouses may become resilient against the effects of stress. Successfully coping with 
low stress was associated with less vulnerability to future stress. However, under high 
stress, a positive coping strategy did not protect spouses from the adverse affects of later 
stressors. Overall, the current findings suggest that a clear understanding of relationship 
maintenance and deterioration is limited without taking into account the broader 
circumstances surrounding the marriage to which couples must adapt. 



VI 



INTRODUCTION 

Marriages tend to begin happily, with both spouses expressing highly positive 
evaluations of each other and the relationship. Despite this early optimism, however, 
marriages today are more likely to end in separation or divorce than to continue 
(Bumpass, 1990). Thus, for many people, the course of a marriage is characterized by a 
shift in relationship beliefs, such that initially positive relationship beliefs deteriorate and 
transform into negative beliefs. How does this shift occur? In other words, how is it that 
some couples are able to maintain their initial feelings of satisfaction despite the 
challenges of a long-term relationship, whereas other couples are not? 

Theories of close relationships indicate that the experience of change or stability 
in relationship satisfaction is, at its heart, a cognitive phenomenon. Though the 
development of a relationship is affected by a broad range of variables, from the enduring 
characteristics of each partner to the behaviors that partners exchange (Karney & 
Bradbury, 1995), these variables nevertheless tend to exert their influence on future 
outcomes through their effects on how individuals think about the relationship (Bradbury 
& Fincham, 1991; Karney, McNulty, & Frye, 2001). In other words, changes in 
intimates' global attitudes toward their relationship ultimately should stem from changes 
in the specific relationship beliefs that give rise to the overall relationship evaluation. 
Consequently, research on relationship maintenance and deterioration has focused a great 
deal of attention on cognitive processes within relationships. This research has 
demonstrated reliable links among particular cognitions (i.e., expectations, perceptions 

1 



of a partner, relationship memories) and relationship outcomes (Karney & Coombs, 
2000; Knee, 1998; Murray, Holmes, & Griffin, 1996). Moreover, this literature has 
drawn attention to the way intimates integrate different levels of cognition to construct a 
global evaluation of the relationship. The organization of intimates' specific relationship 
beliefs has been shown to affect relationship quality independent of the content of those 
beliefs (Murray & Holmes, 1999; Neff & Karney, unpublished manuscript; Showers & 
Kevlyn, 1999). From this perspective, then, progress in understanding change and 
stability in relationship quality necessitates an accurate assessment of the content of 
intimates' relationship beliefs as well as the development of models of how intimates 
integrate those beliefs within an overall impression of the relationship. 

This detailed attention to cognitive processes within relationships, however, 
draws attention away from the external context in which the relationship is embedded. 
Nevertheless, many aspects of the broader environmental context surrounding the 
marriage are likely to influence relationship quality and stability. In particular, the 
effects of intrapersonal factors on marriage may not be able to be fully understood 
without reference to the stressful circumstances and events to which couples must adapt 
(Karney & Bradbury, 1995). Research on stressful events, traditionally defined as events 
that challenge an individual's adaptive capacity (Cohen, Kessler, & Gordon, 1997), 
suggests that even the happiest couples will likely experience stressful events external to the 
relationship that may strain the marriage, despite the initial absence of difficulties within the 
relationship (Robinson & Jacobson, 1987). Theoretically, these stressful events may include 
any event that requires adaptation by the individual, regardless of whether the event is 
positive or negative. Empirical evidence, however, suggests that the adaptation to negative 
events taxes individuals in a way that positive events do not. While negative events have 



3 
been found to have clear, consistent patterns with psychological distress, findings with 

respect to positive events tend to be weak and contradictory (Turner & Wheaton, 1997). In 

other words, adapting to winning the lottery seems to be less of a challenge than adapting to 

the loss of a job. For this reason, research examining the influence of stress on marital quality 

has tended to focus on the impact of negative life events. 

In fact, negative life events consistently have been associated with lowered marital 
adjustment (Lavee, McCubbin, & Olson, 1987; Whiffen & Gottlib, 1989). Marital instability 
tends to be higher among couples experiencing negative external stresses, such as financial 
difficulties (Bahr, 1979). Moreover, couples reporting more negative life events reap fewer 
long-term benefits from marital therapy than those not faced with such challenging 
circumstances (Jacobson, Schmaling, & Holtzworth-Munroe, 1987). Consequently, some of 
the antecedents of marital deterioration may stem from contextual, rather than intrapersonal 
influences. Yet, little is known about the mechanisms through which the external 
circumstances surrounding a marriage influence relationship outcomes over time 
(Bradbury, Cohan, & Karney, 1998; Karney & Bradbury, 1995). In other words, how do 
external stressful events affect processes internal to the relationship? 

The goal of the current study was to address this gap between existing theories of 
relationship maintenance and research on stressful life circumstances. Specifically, this 
paper examines the interplay between negative external stress and cognitive processes 
within the relationship over the course of a continuing marriage. To accomplish this goal, 
the remainder of the introduction first reviews research demonstrating that stressful life 
events affect the satisfaction of both individuals within the relationship. We then attempt 
to tie this research to the broader literature on close relationship maintenance by 
proposing a mechanism through which stress may deteriorate relationship satisfaction. 



4 
Specifically, we suggest that external stress may affect relationship evaluations through 

its effects on both the content and the structure of intimates' specific relationship 

perceptions. Thus, external stress should provide intimates with more negative 

perceptions within the relationship. Furthermore, stress should prevent intimates from 

successfully coping with this increase in negative relationship content by hindering 

intimates' ability to re-organize their perceptions in a manner that would preserve their 

overall relationship satisfaction. Next, we take these ideas out of the context of the 

individual and place them within the relationship dyad by examining how the stress of 

each individual in the relationship may combine to affect intimates' cognitive processes. 

From here, we explore the possibility that stress may not always result in declines in 

satisfaction. Though most stress research has emphasized the harmful effects of stress, 

under some circumstances stress actually may serve to enhance rather than deteriorate 

relationship functioning. Finally, we describe a study designed to evaluate these ideas by 

examining the longitudinal effects of negative, external stressful events on intimates' 

relationship cognitions. 






LITERATURE REVIEW 
Stress and Relationship Quality 
The general literature on stress frequently has examined the association between 
an individual's stress level and his or her personal well-being. Thus, this literature has 
sought to answer the question: How does exposure to stress influence an individual's 
thoughts and behaviors? Within the context of a romantic relationship, however, 
intimates' thoughts and behaviors tend to affect the thoughts and behaviors of their 
relationship partners. As a result, the external stressors experienced by one individual are 
likely to create circumstances that will influence each individual within the relationship 
(O'Brien & DeLongis, 1997). Considering the perspective of both the individual and the 
relationship partner thus broadens the original question. Within a relationship, the 
question becomes: How does stress influence the relationship functioning of the 
individual and how does the stress experienced by one individual influence the 
relationship functioning of the spouse? As a result of this broader question, theory and 
research geared toward explaining the association between stress and relationship well- 
being has grown to include the perspective of both individuals in a relationship through 
the study of two distinct, yet related phenomena. The first phenomenon, known as stress 
spillover, refers to a situation in which the stress generated in one setting affects the 
thoughts and behaviors of an individual within a different setting (Bolger, DeLongis, 
Kessler, & Wethington, 1989; Repetti & Wood, 1997). Thus, stress spillover suggests 
that individuals' external stressful experiences may affect their own judgments of 



6 
their relationships. The second phenomenon, known as stress crossover or emotional 

transmission, refers to a situation in which the stress being experienced by one individual 

leads to heightened distress in the partner (Larson & Almeida, 1999). Stress crossover, 

then, suggests that individuals' external stressful experiences may affect their partners' 

judgments of the relationship. The next section addresses each of these processes in 

greater detail. 

Stress and the Individual: Spillover Effects 

Two lines of research suggest that stressful life events external to the relationship 

may spill over to affect an individual's functioning within the relationship. First, 

increases in stress consistently have been associated with changes in relationship 

behaviors. For instance, a common response to job stress appears to be social withdrawal 

(Repetti & Wood, 1997). A study of male air traffic controllers' daily work stress 

revealed that both the air traffic controllers and their wives described the husbands' 

behavior as more withdrawn after work shifts that husbands described as busier and more 

difficult than after work shifts that were relatively stress free (Repetti, 1989). 

Specifically, under higher levels of work stress, individuals tend to reduce their 

involvement at home by engaging in fewer household tasks and fewer leisure activities 

(Bolger et al., 1989; Crouter, Perry-Jenkins, Huston, & Crawford, 1989). This 

withdrawal coping response, however, tends only to occur when spouses support this 

behavior (Repetti, 1989). When withdrawal is not facilitated, the experience of stress in 

the workplace may give rise to negative interactions at home. Husbands in blue-collar 

occupations display more negative affect in their marital interactions than do husbands in 

white-collar occupations (Krokoff, Gottman, & Roy, 1988). This association was 

nonsignificant when controlling for job distress, suggesting that stressful working 



conditions rather than status influenced these behaviors. In addition, arguments in the 
home are more likely to be reported on days in which individuals report more distressing 
encounters with coworkers and supervisors (Bolger et al., 1989; Repetti & Wood, 1997). 

Second, increases in stress have been directly associated with diminished 
relationship evaluations. Individuals' work stress has been linked to less accepting views 
of family members (Crouter & Bumpus, 2001). Moreover, the accumulation of external 
stressors negatively affects not only concurrent but also future judgments of relationship 
satisfaction (Bodenmann, 1997). However, recent evidence suggests a more complex 
association between stressful life events and relationship satisfaction. In a series of 
studies, Tesser and Beach (1998) examined the between- subjects association between 
negative life events and relationship satisfaction. Results revealed that as the number of 
negative life events experienced increased from low to moderate, stress spillover 
occurred, such that individuals also reported increasingly negative perceptions of then- 
relationship. Interestingly, however, under moderate levels of stress, negative life events 
did not seem to reflect on individuals' relationships. Rather, under moderate stress, 
individuals seemed to prevent their stressful experiences from spilling over into their 
relationship judgments, resulting in a jump in relationship satisfaction. As negative life 
events continued to accumulate beyond this point, though, increases in stress again were 
associated with lowered relationship satisfaction. To explain these findings, Tesser and 
Beach (1998) postulate that under conditions of moderate stress, individuals may become 
aware of the possibility that their stress is contaminating their relationship judgments. As 
a result of this awareness, individuals will attempt to discount their feelings of stress 
when making their relationship evaluations, thereby minimizing stress spillover. This 
discounting, however, is assumed to be an effortful process. Consequently, when stress 



8 
levels are high, individuals' stress may tax their cognitive resources, thereby 

overwhelming their ability to separate their stress from their satisfaction (e.g., Martin, 

Seta, & Crelia, 1990). As a result, increased stress spillover occurs. In other words, 

when individuals are aware of their stress and possess the cognitive capacity to do so, 

they may be able to nullify the influence of their stress on their relationship evaluations. 

Stress and the Partner: Crossover Effects 

In addition to affecting one's own thoughts and behaviors, the stressful life events 
of one individual may lead to changes in the emotions and behaviors of significant others 
(Larson & Almeida, 1999). For instance, in one study, independent observers rated 
children's affect as increasingly dysphoric on days in which their mothers reported 
experiencing higher levels of work stress (Repetti & Wood, 1997). Similarly, mothers' 
anxiety predicts the subsequent anxiety of their adolescent children even when 
controlling for adolescents' initial levels of anxiety. This transmission of anxiety from 
mother to child was particularly likely when mothers were under higher levels of stress 
(Larson & Gillman, 1999). 

As seen in stress spillover research, however, in some situations individuals may 
succeed in limiting the negative influences of stress. Downey and colleagues (Downey, 
Purdie, & Schaffer-Neitz, 1 999) found that mothers suffering from chronic pain report 
experiencing higher distress and more anger than a sample of control mothers without 
chronic pain. However, the within-day correspondence between mother's anger and 
child's anger was significantly lower in families coping with chronic pain, relative to the 
control families. In other words, the anger experienced by mothers with chronic pain was 
less likely to affect the anger of their children than was the anger experienced by the 



9 
control mothers, even though these control mothers reported lower overall levels of 

anger. 

Similar findings were found in a study of romantic relationships in which one 
partner was preparing for the bar exam. Thompson and Bolger (1999) measured the 
examinees' mood as well as their partners' feelings about the relationship for the 35 days 
preceding and immediately after the exam. Prior to the exam, the examinee's depressed 
mood led to a subsequent reduction in positive feelings about the relationship in the 
partner. However, as the day of the exam drew closer and examinees' distress reached its 
highest level, this association no longer remained significant. In fact, on the day 
immediately before the exam, the association between examinees' mood and partners' 
relationship evaluations was essentially zero. Thus, partners seemingly made allowances 
for the examinee's distress by tolerating negative emotions they did not previously 
tolerate. Together with the previous study, these findings imply that when an individual 
clearly may attribute the source of a partner's distress to the stressful situation, the 
individual may not react as strongly to the partner's distress as he or she otherwise would, 
thereby preventing stress crossover effects (Thompson & Bolger, 1999). 
Critique of the Literature on Stress and Relationship Weil-Being 

Together, research on stress spillover and stress crossover argues that stressful life 
circumstances external to the relationship frequently affect couples' thoughts and 
behaviors within the relationship. Nevertheless, our understanding of the complex 
interplay between external events and internal relationship processes is hindered by three 
major limitations of this research. First, the current literature is limited by its focus on 
describing rather than explaining the spillover/crossover phenomena. Most of the stress 
literature simply delineates when spillover or crossover occurs without regard for how it 



10 
occurs. An emerging theme from the stress literature is that when the source of a 

negative emotion is attributable to a justified cause and individuals possess the cognitive 

capacity to do so, individuals may think and act in ways that prevent stress from 

influencing their relationship evaluations. How, then, do individuals successfully protect 

their relationship evaluations from the influence of external stress? Moreover, what 

happens when stress overwhelms this ability to protect relationship satisfaction? In other 

words, how does relationship satisfaction ultimately break down in the face of stress? 

The answers to these questions have yet to be examined directly. Consequently, there is 

a gap between theory and research preventing a more thorough understanding of the 

mechanisms underlying stress spillover and crossover processes. 

A second limitation concerns a failure to examine how the external circumstances 
of the relationship partner may influence stress crossover processes. By definition, 
relationships involve dyadic processes. Thus, the factors each individual brings to a 
relationship should combine to influence relationship outcomes. For instance, as 
previously mentioned, spouses may not be affected by their partners' stress if they are 
able to attribute their partners' behavior to the stressor (Thompson & Bolger, 1999). 
However, if spouses are experiencing high levels of stress themselves, they may lack the 
cognitive resources to discount their partners' distress in this manner (Tesser & Beach, 
1998). Thus, the manner in which spouses' stress levels interact to affect each 
individual's relationship well-being warrants further attention. 

Though also an important strength of the current research, a final limitation of the 
stress spillover and crossover literature is the almost exclusive reliance on daily diary 
methods. Daily diaries have advanced the understanding of spillover/crossover processes 
by allowing for the within-subjects examination of the association between stress and 



11 

well-being. This methodology controls for numerous extraneous variables, such as 
personality or general response tendencies, by examining changes in an individual's 
relationship functioning according to whether the person is experiencing more or less 
stress than usual. However, as daily diary data is difficult to obtain, current research has 
examined only the short-term longitudinal consequences (e.g., several days to one month) 
of stress for relationship well-being. Given that systematic changes in satisfaction occur 
over years rather than days, a broader perspective is necessary to investigate how external 
stress may be linked to the deterioration of relationship well-being over the course of a 
long-term marriage. 

Overall, the existing stress research leaves three important unanswered questions 
concerning the interplay between external stress and relationship well-being. First, 
through what mechanism does stress affect relationship satisfaction? Second, how do 
spouses' stress experiences interact to produce relationship outcomes? Finally, how is 
stress linked to satisfaction over time? The remainder of the introduction examines each 
of these three questions in greater detail. 

The Mechanisms Underlying Stress and Declines in Relationship Satisfaction 

The first limitation of the stress spillover/crossover literature is a lack of 
understanding concerning how stressful life events produce changes in intimates' 
satisfaction. Traditionally, research on stress and relationship well-being has been 
conducted without regard for the existing theories on relationship development. Linking 
stress research to the broader literature on relationship maintenance and deterioration 
suggests a mechanism through which stressors external to the relationship may influence 
judgments of satisfaction within the relationship. As mentioned, this literature argues that 
change or stability in relationship satisfaction ultimately is the result of changes in 



12 
intimates' cognitive processes within the relationship. In particular, relationship 

satisfaction appears to be shaped both by what intimates believe about their relationships 
as well as by how those relationship perceptions are integrated within an overall 
representation of the relationship (Karney, McNulty, & Frye, 2001). Clearly, possessing 
a large number of positive relationship beliefs is associated with higher relationship 
satisfaction (Murray, Holmes, & Griffin, 1996). Nevertheless, all couples tend to 
acknowledge some specific problems or disappointments in their relationships (McNulty 
& Karney, 2001). Maintaining satisfaction over the course of a continuing relationship, 
then, requires that intimates resolve their positive global evaluation of the relationship 
with the negative specific beliefs and experiences that inevitably arise. The difference 
between satisfaction that endures and satisfaction that declines may lie in the different 
ways that this process of reconciliation can take place (Murray & Holmes, 1999; Neff & 
Karney, unpublished manuscript; Showers & Kevlyn, 1999). When a specific relationship 
perception is positive, linking that perception to the global evaluation of the relationship will 
likely promote satisfaction. However, when a specific perception is negative, linking that 
perception to the global evaluation will likely result in a deterioration of relationship 
satisfaction. In other words, any cognitive organization that serves to separate specific 
negative perceptions from the broader positive view of the relationship enhances relationship 
outcomes. 

This perspective on relationship development implies there may be two general 
routes to declines in satisfaction. The first route involves a change in intimates' cognitive 
content. As the number of negative relationship perceptions increases, structurally re- 
organizing those beliefs may no longer protect judgments of satisfaction from the 
implications of the beliefs, leading to lower satisfaction. The second route involves a 



13 
change in intimates' cognitive structure. Intimates may experience a deterioration of the 
ability to re-organize their specific relationship perceptions in a manner that would serve 
to enhance their relationship satisfaction. 

The current study argues that stress influences each of these paths of relationship 
decline. Stressful life circumstances should affect the content of intimates' relationship 
beliefs by increasing the number of negative perceptions intimates hold about then- 
relationship. Perhaps more importantly, however, stressful life circumstances should 
affect the structure of intimates' beliefs by hindering intimates' ability to organize then- 
beliefs in a relationship-enhancing fashion. In other words, the experience of external 
stressors should provide individuals with more negativity to deal with in the relationship 
as well as affect individuals' ability to subsequently cope with this increase in negative 
relationship perceptions. The following sections describe hypotheses derived from this 
general framework. 
Stress and Cognitive Content 

The first premise of this study was that increases in stressful life events would 
negatively affect the content of intimates' specific relationship perceptions. Frequently, 
satisfied intimates are rather enhancing in their overall impressions of their relationships, 
even describing their relationships as ideal (Ruvulo & Veroff, 1997). This positive bias, 
however, does not seem to extend to intimates' perceptions of specific aspects of the 
relationship (Neff & Karney, in press). Unlike global impressions, which allow intimates 
to choose from a wide range of specific examples to justify a positive self- view, specific 
aspects of the relationship tend to be defined more concretely, and thus restrict intimates' 
flexibility to justify a desired belief (Dunning, Meyerowitz, & Holzberg, 1989). 
Consequently, specific relationship perceptions tend to be responsive to the reality of an 



14 
individual's experiences in a way that global impressions are not. For instance, if 
communications within the relationship become increasingly abrupt and critical, 
intimates will likely begin to hold the negative specific belief that their communication 
skills are suffering. Evidence from a daily diary study of satisfied newlywed couples 
supports this idea (McNulty & Karney, 2001). This study revealed that spouses' specific 
perceptions of the marriage tended to be less positive and more likely to fluctuate from 
day to day than spouses' global perceptions, suggesting that changes in daily experiences 
may be associated with changes in specific relationship beliefs. Thus, an increase in 
negative experiences within the relationship should lead to an accumulation of negative 
relationship perceptions, thereby resulting in the eventual deterioration of relationship 
satisfaction. 

The first goal of the study, then, was to examine the role of cognitive content in 
the stress spillover process. Our first hypothesis was that stress should contribute to the 
deterioration of satisfaction through its effects on spouses' specific relationship 
perceptions. Replicating previous work on stress spillover, we first predicted that 
increases in spouses' external stressful life circumstances should be associated with 
corresponding decreases in their marital satisfaction over time (Hypothesis la). 

Second, we predicted that specific relationship perceptions would mediate this 
expected stress spillover effect (Hypothesis lb). Namely, given that stress should 
provide spouses with increased negative experiences within the relationship, increases in 
spouses' external stressful life circumstances should be accompanied by corresponding 
increases in the negativity of spouses' specific relationship perceptions. This association 
was expected to account for the association between stress and global satisfaction. 



15 
Stress and Cognitive Structure 

The second premise of the study was that stressful life events would influence the 
manner in which intimates organize and integrate their specific relationship perceptions. 
Growing evidence suggests that intimates who evaluate their relationships positively or 
negatively at the global level may not differ in the content of their specific relationship 
perceptions, but rather in the way those perceptions are integrated. This research 
demonstrates that the ability to organize relationship cognitions in a manner that limits 
the influence of specific negative beliefs on the global relationship evaluation, allows 
satisfaction to remain high, despite the presence of these negative perceptions (Murray & 
Holmes, 1999; Neff & Karney, unpublished manuscript; Showers & Kevlyn, 1999). 

Intimates may reduce the impact of their negative specific perceptions on 
relationship satisfaction using a variety of organizational techniques. For instance, 
intimates may attribute great importance to their positive specific perceptions, while 
dismissing the importance of their negative specific perceptions. This process of 
differentially weighing positive and negative beliefs, or differential importance, ensures 
that positive beliefs will contribute more to overall satisfaction than negative beliefs 
(Neff & Karney, unpublished manuscript; Pelham & Swann, 1989). Similarly, intimates 
may integrate specific beliefs with a global evaluation through the use of causal 
attributions. Attributing a partner's relationship transgressions to temporary or external 
causes in effect weakens the link between this specific negative perception and global 
relationship satisfaction (Holzworth-Munroe & Jacobson, 1989). In other words, any 
organization that serves to weaken the link between the global relationship evaluation and 
specific negative perceptions contributes to the maintenance of relationship quality. 



16 
In fact, individuals' cognitive organization may represent a strategic response to 
negative experiences. Research on the self-concept shows that though individuals report 
an increase in negative self-views when in a negative mood, they will attempt to 
counteract this negativity by altering the structure of their self- views (Showers, 
Abramson, & Hogan, 1998). Similarly, a longitudinal study of differential importance in 
marriage demonstrated that intimates' specific relationship perceptions were changing 
significantly over the course of the marriage. Among satisfied spouses, however, those 
fluctuations in specific relationship perceptions were accompanied by corresponding 
changes in the importance of those perceptions. Specifically, spouses who maintained 
flexible cognitive structures, such that positive perceptions were always viewed as more 
important than negative perceptions despite any changes in the content of those 
perceptions, exhibited more stable levels of satisfaction over the first 2 Vi years of 
marriage (Neff & Karney, unpublished manuscript). Thus, whereas changes in the 
content of intimates' beliefs may reflect intimates' objective experience within the 
relationship, changes in cognitive structure may signify intimates' attempt to cope with 
those changing experiences. 

This coping response to negative perceptions within the relationship, however, 
may be adversely affected by increases in the stressful life circumstances outside the 
relationship. Previous research has shown that cognitive organization may buffer 
individual's well-being from the negative effects of stress (Linville, 1987; Showers & 
Kling, 1996). Nevertheless, the experience of a number of stressful events also may tax 
intimates' energy and cognitive resources, thereby leaving intimates with fewer resources 
to handle successfully their negative relationship beliefs (e.g., McCubbin & Patterson, 
1983). As a result, intimates' information processing within the relationship may be 



17 
simplified when they are distracted by external stress (Hammond, 2000). Evidence 

suggests that if individuals are devoting energy to other tasks while making evaluations, 

they are less likely to partial out extraneous influences from those judgments (Martin et 

al., 1990). For instance, individuals primed with irrelevant negative information will 

judge a target other more negatively if they are distracted during the rating process than if 

they are not distracted (Martin et al., 1990). Distracted individuals also tend not to correct 

for situational influences when judging the behavior of others, instead relying on 

dispositional attributions of behavior (Gilbert, Pelham, & Krull, 1988). Thus, to the 

extent that maintaining a relationship-enhancing cognitive organization requires cognitive 

effort, individuals may find it difficult to separate their specific negative perceptions from 

their global relationship satisfaction while also attempting to manage high levels of 

external stress. 

The second goal of the study, then, was to examine the role of cognitive structure 

in the stress spillover process. Our second hypothesis was that stress should contribute to 

the deterioration of satisfaction through its effects on the organization of spouses' 

specific relationship perceptions. As previously discussed, increases in stress should be 

accompanied by increases in negative relationship perceptions. However, under low to 

moderate levels of external stress, intimates may retain the resources necessary to cope 

successfully with these negative relationship perceptions. In other words, low to 

moderate stress should be associated with a relationship-enhancing cognitive structure, 

such that positive perceptions are more closely linked to the global evaluation than are 

negative perceptions. In fact, prior research demonstrates that cognitive organization 

effects are strongest when the content of beliefs is somewhat negative (Showers et al., 

1998). Thus, the relationship-enhancing nature of intimates' cognitive organization 



18 
actually may increase as stress increases from low to moderate and intimates have more 

negativity to cope with in the relationship. Under these conditions, then, stress spillover 

should be low. On the contrary, as the number of external life stressors continues to grow 

larger, intimates may find themselves overwhelmed by their stress. Conditions of high 

stress may deplete intimates' cognitive resources and thus interfere with intimates' ability 

to organize their relationship perceptions in a relationship-enhancing manner. 

Consequently, as stress increases from moderate to high, the relationship-enhancing 

nature of spouses' cognitive organization may decrease, resulting in greater stress 

spillover. 

Consequently, we predicted that fluctuations in spouses' stress would be 
associated with fluctuations in their cognitive organization over time, independent of 
changes in cognitive content (Hypothesis 2a). Specifically, external stress was expected 
to be curvilinearly related to spouses' cognitive organization. Furthermore, we predicted 
that spouses' organization of their specific relationship perceptions also would mediate 
the association between stress and overall satisfaction (Hypothesis 2b). 

Incorporating the Dyad: Additive and Interactive Effects of Intimates' Stress 

A second limitation of the stress spillover/crossover literature is the lack of 
attention given to the possible additive and interactive effects of each spouse's stress on 
relationship evaluations. Previous research has argued that spouses' external stress not 
only may affect their own relationship judgments, but also may affect the relationship 
judgments of their partners. However, this research has examined the stress crossover 
effect without regard to the stressful circumstances surrounding the relationship partner. 
Nevertheless, the understanding of stress crossover effects is likely to be complicated by 
the fact that intimates' stress may interact with their partners' stress to produce changes 



19 
in partners' satisfaction. In other words, we predict that intimates' stress will affect the 

way their partners think about the relationship. Yet, the influence of intimates' stress on 

their partners' relationship cognitions should depend on the amount of stress that partners 

are experiencing themselves. 

For instance, an increase in a spouse's stress should be associated with an increase 
in the number of negative relationship perceptions held by the partner. However, the 
partner's own stress level should moderate this effect. Namely, if John is under high 
stress and thus likely to behave poorly in the relationship, Jane should experience an 
increase in her negative relationship perceptions. If Jane is also under high levels of 
stress, though, she may be more likely to reciprocate this negativity. Thus, both John's 
stress and Jane's stress should work to contribute to Jane's negative relationship 
perceptions. 

Similarly, partners' own stress level should influence how they cope with the 
increase in negative relationship perceptions brought about by their spouses' stress. 
When intimates' stress is high, yet their partners' stress is low, partners should have the 
cognitive resources at their disposal to make allowances for intimates' negativity. For 
instance, if Jane is experiencing low stress, she should be able to cope successfully with 
the increase in negative perceptions caused by John's stress by separating those 
perceptions from her satisfaction. As a result, when intimates' stress is high and partners' 
stress is low, stress crossover should be low. However, if partners are also faced with 
high levels of stress, they may find themselves unable to accomplish the cognitive 
reorganization needed to preserve their satisfaction. In other words, if Jane is also under 
high stress, she may lack the resources necessary to maintain a relationship-enhancing 



20 
cognitive organization. Thus, when intimates' stress is high and their partners' stress is 

high, stress crossover should also be high. 

Importantly, however, intimates' stress levels should not directly affect their 
partners' cognitive organization. Namely, intimates' stress should have little influence 
on the cognitive resources partners have to re-organize their specific relationship 
perceptions. Thus, unlike the influence of stress on cognitive content, intimates' stress 
should not interact with their partners' stress to produce changes in partners' cognitive 
organization. Rather, partners' own stress should influence their own ability to cope with 
negative perceptions in the relationship, which in turn should moderate the effect of their 
spouses' stress on their relationship satisfaction. 

The third goal of the study, then, was to examine the role of the partner's own 
stress in the stress crossover process. Specifically, our third hypothesis was that partners' 
own stressful experiences would moderate the association between spouses' stress level 
and partners' relationship satisfaction. Replicating previous work on stress crossover, we 
first predicted that increases in spouses' external stressful life circumstances would be 
associated with corresponding decreases in their partners' marital satisfaction over time 
(Hypothesis 3a). In addition, we predicted that partners' own stress should moderate this 
stress crossover effect, such that when partners' own stress is low, stress crossover should 
be low. However, when partners are also experiencing high levels of external stress, 
stress crossover should be high (Hypothesis 3b). 

Parallel to Hypothesis lb, we also predicted that partners' specific relationship 
perceptions would mediate the expected stress crossover process (Hypothesis 3c). In 
other words, spouses' stress should contribute to the deterioration of their partners' 
satisfaction through its effects on partners' specific relationship perceptions. Moreover, 



21 
we predicted that the partner's own stress should moderate the association between 

partners' specific relationship perceptions and their spouses' stressful life circumstances 

(Hypothesis 3d). In other words, the interaction of each individual's stress should 

produce even greater increases in the number of negative perceptions held by the 

relationship partner. 

Turning to the role of cognitive organization in the stress crossover process, we 
hypothesized that changes in spouses' stressful life circumstances would not be directly 
associated with changes in their partners' cognitive structures (Hypothesis 3e). Namely, 
spouses' stress should have no direct effects on their partners' ability to cope with 
negative specific perceptions within the relationship. Rather, as hypothesized earlier, 
partners' own stress level should influence their cognitive organization (see Hypothesis 
2b). Consequently, partners' own stress was expected to influence the stress crossover 
process through its effects on partners' cognitive organization. Specifically, partners' 
cognitive organization should moderate the association between spouses' stressful life 
circumstances and partners' relationship satisfaction (Hypothesis 3f). In other words, 
stress crossover should be highest when partners' cognitive organization is more 
negative. 

Is Stress Always Bad? Stressful life Events and Longitudinal Outcomes 

A third limitation of the stress spillover/stress crossover literature is a lack of 
longitudinal research investigating the effects of stress spillover and crossover over the 
course of a long-term relationship. Daily diary studies indicate that the short-term effects 
of stress on relationship functioning tend to be negative. These findings, then, imply that 
stress will be detrimental to relationship quality over time. However, is this always the 
case? This perspective on stress and relationship well-being fails to account for why 



22 

some relationships may emerge from stressful experiences relatively unscathed, while 
other relationships crumble in the face of such hardships. Longitudinal research is 
necessary to determine the ultimate effects of stressful life events on future relationship 
outcomes. 

In fact, some theories of stress have begun to shift away from an emphasis on the 
harmful effects of stress toward a focus on the potential of stress to actually enhance 
individuals' well-being. Stressful life events can provide opportunities for growth by 
promoting new coping skills or mobilizing previously untapped personal and social 
resources (Holahan & Moos, 1990; McCubbin & Patterson, 1983). As a result, 
individuals who are exposed to stressful experiences and cope with them effectively may 
develop a resilience to future stress (Holahan & Moos, 1990). In other words, successful 
adaptation to a stressful event should stimulate positive changes and contribute to 
improved functioning after the stressor by strengthening the individual's coping 
resources, making the successful adaptation to future stressors more likely (McCubbin & 
Patterson, 1983). 

Empirical evidence for the positive effects of stressful experiences is growing. 
Studies of daily stress have revealed that individuals report a more positive mood on the 
day following a stressful event than on other stress-free days (Bolger, DeLongis, Kessler, 
& Schilling, 1989; DeLongis, Folkman & Lazarus, 1988). This effect is particularly 
strong when individuals receive high levels of social support for the event (Caspi, Bolger, 
& Eckenrode, 1987). Moreover, individuals who behave adaptively under conditions of 
high stress have shown an increase in resources, such as improved family support and 
reduced family conflict, one year later (Holahan & Moos, 1990). Together, this research 
suggests that successfully coping with a stressor should lead to more success in 



23 
surmounting stressful experiences in the future. Nevertheless, this assumption of the 

stress resilience literature has not been studied directly. 

The fourth and final goal of the study, then, was to examine whether intimates' 
responses to stressful life events encountered early in the relationship affect their future 
relationship functioning. Our fourth hypothesis was that intimates who successfully cope 
with stress by preventing their stressful life experiences from spilling over into their 
relationship satisfaction may emerge from the experience as less susceptible to the 
adverse effects of later stressors. Specifically, we first predicted that spouses who 
maintain a positive organization of relationship perceptions in the face of external stress 
would be less vulnerable to future declines in relationship satisfaction (Hypothesis 4a). 
In other words, spouses who experience stress early in the relationship and respond 
effectively to that stress should maintain more stable levels of satisfaction over time. 
Moreover, we predicted that spouses who maintain a positive organization of relationship 
perceptions in the face of external stress early in the relationship would be less vulnerable 
to future stress spillover effects (Hypothesis 4b). In other words, spouses who experience 
stress early in the relationship and respond effectively to that stress should demonstrate 
lower levels of stress spillover over time. 

We also predicted that successful coping early in the relationship should serve to 
bolster intimates' ability to successfully cope with stress in the future (Hypothesis 4c). 
Intimates who counteract the influence of stress by separating their negative relationship 
perceptions from their overall satisfaction should emerge from the stressful experience 
with a positive cognitive organization. As a result, the experience of stress will serve to 
augment intimates' future coping resources, thereby enhancing their probability of 
surmounting future stressors. By the same token, intimates who fail to successfully cope 



24 
with their negative specific relationship perceptions in the face of stress will emerge with 

a weakened cognitive organization. In this case, the experience of stress will serve to 

deteriorate intimates' coping resources, rendering them unlikely to adapt successfully to 

other stressors. Thus, successful coping should be associated with better coping in the 

future. 

Overview of Current Study 

The current study attempted to address the limitations of the existing literature on 
external stress and relationship evaluations by examining the influence of stressful life 
events on cognitive processing within the relationship over the course of a continuing 
marriage. First-married, newlywed couples participating in a broader study of marital 
development provided information concerning their stressful experiences, their specific 
relationship perceptions, and their overall relationship satisfaction every six months over 
the first 3 Vz years of their marriage. To ensure that the results of the study were not 
unique to a single method of assessing a construct, several variables in the study were 
assessed using multiple measures. 

The use of a fairly homogenous sample of newlywed couples provided several 
advantages. First, this sample allows us to distinguish between the initial onset of marital 
dissatisfaction and the continuing course of marital dissatisfaction (Bradbury, 1998). In 
samples that vary in their marital duration, a decline in satisfaction may represent the 
beginning of marital difficulties or the further deterioration of the marriage. The study of 
newlyweds, on the other hand, enables research to clarify the origins of marital 
instability. Second, newlywed couples are an appropriate sample in which to examine 
issues of change and stability. Compared to more established marriages, newlyweds 
experience more dramatic changes in relationship quality and are at elevated risk of 



25 
marital disruption (Bradbury, 1998; Cherlin, 1992). Similarly, couples in the early years 

of marriage may be more likely to be exposed to a variety of stressful life events, as a 

number of external stressors tend to accompany the transition to marriage (e.g., 

relocation, starting a new job). 

Evaluating the role of external stressful life circumstances on cognitive processing 
within the relationship requires attention to two important methodological issues. The 
first issue involves the use of between-subjects versus within-subjects designs. Previous 
research has utilized both types of designs when examining the association between stress 
and relationship quality. However, it is important to recognize that these designs address 
distinct questions. Between-subjects designs examine how stressed versus non-stressed 
couples differ in their relationship functioning. Within-subjects designs, on the other 
hand, provide a more precise examination of stress effects by investigating how changes 
in stress influence an individual's relationship functioning over time, while controlling 
for the individual's average relationship functioning. The current study, then, addressed 
all questions at the within-subjects level. 

The second methodological issue involves the distinction between chronic and 
acute stress. By definition, chronic stress refers to a stable stressor experienced over an 
extended duration of time, such as living in a dangerous neighborhood or having a low 
income. Conversely, acute stress refers to stressful events that occur at one point in time 
and have a clear onset and offset, such as a temporarily heavy workload or a personal 
injury. Unlike chronic stress, which tends to remain constant over long periods of time, 
acute stress is likely to vary substantially over time, and thus seems particularly suited for 
examining the types of questions associated with within-subjects designs. Given that the 
current study intended to examine whether variations in spouses' stress are associated 



26 
with variations in spouses' cognitive processing, the current study relied on measures of 

acute stress rather than of chronic stress. 

Review of Hypotheses 

Hypothesis 1 

Our first hypothesis was that stress should contribute to the deterioration of 
marital satisfaction through its effects on spouses' specific relationship perceptions. 

Hypothesis la. Over time, fluctuations in spouses' stressful life circumstances 
should be accompanied by corresponding changes in their marital satisfaction, controlling 
for spouses' average level of marital satisfaction. Thus, this hypothesis tested for stress 
spillover. 

Hypothesis lb. Increases in spouses' stressful life circumstances should also be 
associated with increases in the negativity of spouses' specific relationship perceptions 
over time. This association was expected to mediate the stress spillover effect. 
Hypothesis 2 

Our second hypothesis was that stress should contribute to the deterioration of 
marital satisfaction through its effects on the organization of spouses' specific 
relationship perceptions. 

Hypothesis 2a. Over time, fluctuations in spouses' stressful life circumstances 
should be accompanied by changes in their cognitive organization, controlling for 
spouses' average level of cognitive organization and for changes in spouses' cognitive 
content. Specifically, we predicted that the association between spouses' stress and their 
cognitive organization would be curvilinear. 

Hypothesis 2b. Spouses' cognitive organization should mediate the stress 
spillover effect. 






27 
Hypothesis 3 

Our third hypothesis was that partners' own stressful experiences would moderate 
the association between spouses' stress level and partners' relationship satisfaction. 

Hypothesis 3a. Parallel to Hypothesis la, over time fluctuations in spouses' 
external stressful life circumstances should be accompanied by corresponding changes in 
their partners' marital satisfaction. Thus, this hypothesis tested for stress crossover. 

Hypothesis 3b. Partners' own stress should moderate the association between 
partners' overall satisfaction and their spouses' stressful circumstances. Namely, stress 
crossover should be greatest when partners also are experiencing high levels of stress. 

Hypothesis 3c. Parallel to Hypothesis lb, increases in spouses' stressful life 
circumstances should also be associated with increases in the negativity of their partners' 
specific relationship perceptions over time. This association was expected mediate the 
stress crossover effect. 

Hypothesis 3d. Partners' own stress should moderate the association between 
partners' specific relationship perceptions and their spouses' stressful life circumstances. 
Namely, spouses' stress should lead to the greatest increase in the negativity of their 
partners' specific perceptions when partners are experiencing high levels of stress. 

Hypothesis 3e. Spouses' stress level should not influence their partners' ability to 
cope with negative specific relationship perceptions. Thus, changes in spouses' stressful 
circumstances should not be associated with changes in their partners' cognitive 
organization. 

Hypothesis 3f. Partners' own stress was expected to influence the stress 
crossover process through its effects on partners' cognitive organization. Specifically, 
partners' cognitive organization should moderate the association between spouses' 



28 
stressful life circumstances and partners' relationship satisfaction. In other words, stress 

crossover should be greatest when partners maintain a less relationship-enhancing 

organization of their specific relationship perceptions. 

Hypothesis 4 

Our fourth hypothesis was that intimates who successfully cope with stressors 
early in the relationship by preventing their stressful life experiences from spilling over 
into their relationship satisfaction should exhibit resilience to future stressors. 

Hypothesis 4a. Spouses who are able to maintain a positive cognitive 
organization in the face of stressors encountered early in the relationship should exhibit 
more stable levels of marital satisfaction over time. 

Hypothesis 4b. Spouses who are able to maintain a positive cognitive 
organization in the face of stressors encountered early in the relationship should exhibit 
lower levels of stress spillover over time. 

Hypothesis 4c. Spouses who are able to maintain a positive cognitive 
organization when faced with stress early in the relationship should exhibit a more 
positive cognitive organization in the face of stressors encountered later in the 
relationship. 



METHOD 
Participants 

Newlywed couples were recruited for this study using two methods. First, 
advertisements were placed in community newspapers and bridal shops, offering up to 
$300 to couples willing to participate in a study of the early years of marriage. Second, 
letters were sent to couples who had applied for marriage licenses in Alachua County, 
Florida. Couples responding to either method of solicitation were screened in a telephone 
interview to determine whether they met the following criteria: (a) this was the first 
marriage for each partner, (b) the couple had been married less than 6 months, (c) neither 
partner had children, (d) each partner was at least 18 years of age and wives were less 
than 35 years of age (to allow that all couples were capable of conceiving children over 
the course of the study), (e) each partner spoke English and had completed at least 10 
years of education (to ensure comprehension of the questionnaires), and (f) the couple 
had no immediate plans to move away from the area. The final sample consisted of 82 
couples. Analyses revealed no significant differences in age or years of education 
between couples recruited through the different types of solicitations. 

On average, husbands were 25. 1 (SD = 3.3) years old, and had received 16.3 (SD 
= 2.4) years of education. Forty percent were employed full time and 54% were full time 
students. Wives averaged 23.7 ( SD = 2.8) years old and had received 16.3 ( SD = 1.2) 
years of education. Thirty-nine percent were employed full time, and 50% were full time 
students. Slightly over 70% of the sample was Christian (over 45% were Protestant) and 

29 



30 
83% of husbands and 89% of wives were white. The average combined income of 

couples was less than $20,000 per year. 

Procedure 

Couples meeting eligibility requirements were scheduled to attend a 3-hour 
laboratory session. Before the session, they were mailed a packet of questionnaires to 
complete at home and bring with them to their appointment. This packet contained self- 
report measures of stress and of relationship perceptions as well as a letter instructing 
couples to complete all questionnaires independently of one another. 

Every six months following the initial assessment, couples were contacted by 
phone and mailed additional packets of questionnaires along with postage-paid return 
envelopes and a letter of instruction reminding couples to complete all forms 
independently of one another. Couples were paid $25 to continue participating at each 
follow-up. This study will examine seven waves of data, covering approximately the first 
3 Vi years of marriage. At Time 7, the final wave of data collection described here, 66 
couples were still married, eight couples had divorced, and eight couples had withdrawn 
from the study. Of the 66 couples who were still married and participating in the study, 
54 couples (82.0%) returned completed packets at Time 7. This slight attrition over time, 
however, should not affect the results presented here as all analyses relied on growth 
curve modeling. One advantage of growth curve modeling is that this type of analysis 
includes both participants providing full data as well as those participants who did not 
provide a full seven waves of data. All subsequent analyses, then, are based on data from 
all 82 couples. 



31 
Materials 

Global Marital Satisfaction 

Most frequently administered measures of relationship satisfaction (e.g., the 
Marital Adjustment Test; Locke & Wallace, 1959) include items that assess intimates' 
global relationship evaluations as well as items assessing perceptions of specific aspects 
of the relationship (e.g., evaluation of communication skills). To ensure that global and 
specific ratings were not confounded in the present study, marital satisfaction was 
measured using a 15-item version of the Semantic Differential (SMD; Osgood, Suci, & 
Tannenbaum, 1957; see Appendix A) that assessed global evaluations of the relationship 
exclusively. At each time point, spouses were asked to indicate their current feelings 
about their marriage on 7-point scales between two opposing adjectives (e.g., "satisfied- 
dissatisfied," "unpleasant-pleasant," "rewarding-disappointing,"). Scores on the measure 
can range from 15 to 105, with higher scores indicating higher satisfaction. The internal 
consistency of the measure was high across all seven waves of data collection, ranging 
from .91 to .98 for husbands and from .93 to .98 for wives. 
Specific Relationship Perceptions 

Spouses' specific perceptions of the relationship were assessed at each time point 
using the Marital Problems Inventory (MPI; Geiss & O'Leary, 1981; see Appendix B). 
The measure lists nineteen potential problem areas in a marriage (e.g., trust, 
communication, household management) and asks participants to rate each item on a 
scale from 1 ("not a problem") to 1 1 ("major problem"). Of the nineteen areas of 
difficulty included on the original measure, we selected only those problems that are 
internal to the relationship to be included in the final composite score. Thus, the 
following items were not included in the composite score as these items may represent 



32 
external stressors on the relationship: in-laws, parents, relatives; recreation and leisure 

time; friends, money management; drugs and alcohol; career decisions; and amount of 

■ 
time spent together. The remaining twelve items were summed to form an index of the 

negativity of spouses' specific relationship perceptions. Composite scores can range from 

12 to 132, with higher scores representing more negative perceptions of the relationship. 

Internal consistency of the measure was high across all seven waves of data collection, 

ranging from .85 to .92 for both husbands and wives. 

Cognitive Organization 

Differential importance. One way spouses may organize their specific 
perceptions is to attribute differential importance to their positive and negative specific 
perceptions. Attributing greater importance to positive relationship perceptions than to 
negative relationship perceptions serves to limit the contribution of negative perceptions 
to the global evaluation, allowing satisfaction to remain high despite the presence of 
specific negative aspects of the relationship (Neff & Karney, unpublished manuscript). 
To assess spouses' use of a differential importance strategy to organize their specific 
relationship perceptions, spouses completed the Inventory of Specific Relationship 
Standards at each time point (Baucom, Epstein, Rankin, & Burnett, 1 996; See Appendix 
C). The measure presents spouses with sixteen specific relationship standards, such as 
"My partner and I should spend a lot of time and energy expressing physical affection for 
each other," and "My partner and I should have the same ideas about how the housework 
should be done." 

For each item, spouses were asked two questions. First, spouses were asked to 
indicate whether the standard was currently being met in their relationship. Thus, this 
question assessed spouses' current perceptions of how the marriage was meeting or 



33 
failing to meet each specific standard. For the first three waves of data collection (Tl- 

T3), this question was measured on a dichotomous scale (1 = yes, = no) as originally 

designed by Baucom and colleagues (1996). This dichotomous scale was changed to a 

five-point continuous scale for the last four waves of data collection (T4-T7). However, 

given that we were interested in comparing spouses' responses across the waves of data, 

the continuous scale was changed back into a dichotomous scale for the purposes of 

computing the differential importance index described below. ' Second, spouses were 

asked to indicate on the same page how upset they would be if the standard were not met 

(1 = not at all; 3 = very much). Thus, this question assessed the importance spouses 

attributed to each standard. Specifically, a response indicating that the individual would 

be very upset if the standard were not met suggests that the standard is highly important 

to the person. To calculate a differential importance index, the within-subjects 

association between specific relationship perceptions and the importance of those 

perceptions was then computed according to the following equation: 

Specific Perception = (3 j+ Pij (Importance of Perception) + error 

Thus, a higher pi would represent a higher, more positive differential importance index, 

indicating that spouses' view their positive perceptions as more important than their 

negative perceptions. This measure of cognitive organization was computed for each 

spouse at every time point. 

Attributions . Attributions represent a process in which spouses determine whether 

their partners' specific behavioral failings are taken as an indication of broader faults in 



To change the 5-point continuous scale to a dichotomous scale, the frequency 
distribution of each item was examined for husbands and wives at each of the first three 
time points. In general, approximately 80% of individuals responded "yes" to each item 
and 20% of individuals responded "no." To approximate this frequency distribution 



34 
the relationship, or whether these behaviors should be separated from overall judgments 

of the relationship. Relying on temporary, situational attributions to describe a partner's 

transgression should serve to weaken the link between the negative specific behavior and 

spouses' global relationship evaluation (McNulty & Karney, 2001). The manner in which 

spouses use attributions to link specific behaviors to their global satisfaction was assessed 

at each time point using the Relationship Attributions Measure (RAM; Fincham & 

Bradbury, 1992; see Appendix D). This 24-item measure presents spouses with four 

negative stimulus events that are likely to occur in all marriages (e.g., "Your spouse 

criticizes something you say" and "Your spouse begins to spend less time with you"). 

For each event, spouses are asked to rate their agreement, on a 7-point scale ranging from 

"Agree strongly" to "Disagree strongly," with statements that reflect six attribution 

dimensions. The causal attribution sub-scale consists of 12 judgments (3 dimensions X 4 

stimulus events) and the responsibility attributions sub-scale consists of 12 judgments. 

For causal attributions, the three dimensions relate to the perceived locus, globality, and 

stability of the cause of the negative partner behavior. For responsibility attributions, the 

three dimensions capture the extent to which spouses consider their partners' behaviors as 

intentional, selfishly motivated, and blameworthy. For each sub-scale, a composite score 

was computed by summing the 12 judgments, resulting in two scores for each spouse 

with possible ranges of 12 to 84. Higher scores indicate attributions that view the partner 

in a more negative light. Internal consistency of each sub-scale was relatively high 

across the seven waves of data collection. Coefficient alphas for causality attributions 

ranged from .85 to .92 for husbands and from .73 to .86 for wives. Coefficient alphas for 



when converting the continuous scale to a dichotomous scale, we recoded a response of 1 
or 2 to be a (i.e., "no") and a 3, 4, or 5, to be a 1 (i.e., yes). After this recoding, the 
frequency distribution of each item tended to be 85% "yes" and 15% "no." 



35 
responsibility attributions ranged from .89 to .95 for husbands and from .88 to .91 for 

wives. Causality and responsibility attributions were significantly correlated across the 

time points for husbands (ranging from .58 to .78) and for wives (ranging from .52 to 

.66). 

Stressful Life Circumstances 

To assess external acute stress at each time point, couples completed a subset of 

the Stressful Life Events checklist (SLE; Bradbury, unpublished manuscript; see 

Appendix E) designed to assess life events in the previous 6 months. Ninety events were 

selected from other standardized life events checklists, with an emphasis on objective 

events likely to occur in a young, married population. Events were grouped to represent 

nine life domains: marriage, work, school, family and friends, finances, health, personal 

events, living conditions, and legal. For each event, spouses were first asked to indicate 

whether the event occurred. If the event occurred, spouses then indicated the impact the 

event had on their lives on a 7-point scale ranging from extremely negative (-3) to 

extremely positive (+3). Each stressful event then had to meet two criteria to be included 

in the final composite score First, the event could not represent a likely consequence of 

marital satisfaction or marital distress. Fourteen items were not included in the final 

score for this reason. 2 In this way, the measure should tap only those stressors external to 

(i.e., less likely to be caused by) the marriage. For instance, whereas being fired from a 

job or being hospitalized may affect the marriage, these events are less likely to have 



2 The following items were not included on the Survey of Stressful Life Events as they 
were likely to represent consequences of marital satisfaction or marital distress: change 
in quality of relationship with spouse; change in number of arguments with spouse; had 
an affair; spouse had an affair; reconciliation with spouse after separation; pregnancy; 
had a baby; abortion; sexual difficulties; dropped out of school for personal reasons; 
major change in sleeping habits; major change in eating habits; emotional or 
psychological illness. 



36 

been caused by the marriage. Second, consistent with the recommendations of Turner 

and Wheaton (1997), the event had to represent a negative life stressor. Turner and 
Wheaton (1997) found in their review of the stress literature that clear patterns of results 
emerge in studies of negative events whereas the effects of positive events are weak and 
inconsistent. On the basis of this review, the authors have recommended that stressors 
generally considered as positive be excluded from stress measures. To identify negative 
stressful events, we examined the average impact rating of each event at each wave of 
data collection. To be included in the final composite score, the event had to be rated as 
having a negative impact on average by both husbands and wives each time the item was 
endorsed. Thus, a total of 51 stressful life events were used to calculate the final stress 
score (see bolded items in Appendix F). Analysis of the events revealed that at each time 
point, most (75%) of these 51 items were endorsed by at least one individual, suggesting 
that the items are a reasonable sampling of life events likely to be experienced by couples 
in the early stages of marriage. The final stress score was computed by adding together 
the number of negative events the spouse reported had occurred. Stress scores could 
range from zero to 5 1 . 

Data Analysis 
Examination of many of the hypotheses concerning the association between negative 
external stress and cognitive processes internal to the relationship require within-subjects 
analyses. A within-subjects approach allowed for the examination of whether changes in 
a spouse's stress were associated with changes in his or her relationship cognitions, 
controlling for spouses' idiosyncratic tendency to view their relationship and their stress 
more or less favorably. To address hypotheses at the within-subjects level, data were 
examined with Hierarchical Linear Modeling (HLM; Bryk & Raudenbush, 1992), 



37 
implemented with the HLM/2L computer program (Bryk, Raudenbush, & Congdon, 
1994). This approach was adopted for several reasons. First, in contrast to other 
approaches to analyzing multilevel models (e.g., structural equation modeling), HLM 
provides reliable estimates of within-subject parameters even when sample sizes are 
relatively small. Second, HLM provides maximally efficient estimates of these 
parameters by weighting individual estimates according to empirical Bayes theory. When 
the within-subject parameter for an individual can be estimated precisely, the final 
estimate relies heavily on the individual data. When the parameter cannot be estimated 
precisely (e.g., because of missing data), the final estimate relies more heavily on the 
mean of the sample. Because the most precise estimates therefore contribute more to the 
final estimated variance of the sample, variances estimated in this way tend to be more 
conservative than those obtained through traditional OLS methods. 

In general, data from each spouse was used to estimate the association between 
spouses' stressful life experiences and the content and organization of their relationship 
cognitions. 



RESULTS 
Descriptive Statistics and Correlations 

Table 1 presents descriptive statistics for measures of global satisfaction and of 
specific relationship perceptions. As would be expected from a sample of newlywed 
couples, on average both husbands and wives reported high levels of global marital 
satisfaction and low levels of negative specific relationship perceptions. Spouses' 
perceptions of specific problems in the relationship were significantly negatively 
associated with their global marital satisfaction, with correlations ranging from -.60 to 
-.83 for husbands and from -.77 to -.86 for wives. A repeated-measures ANOVA with a 
linear contrast test was conducted to test for linear change in global satisfaction scores 
over time. Results revealed that both husbands' and wives' satisfaction tended to 
decrease significantly over the seven waves of data, F (1,47) = 5.5, p = .02, r| = . 1 1 for 
husbands and F (1,49) = 13.9, p =.001, if = .22 for wives. Tests for linear change in 
spouses' perceptions of specific marital problems were not significant for husbands, F 
(1,48) = .22,/? = .64, if = .01, but were significant for wives, F (1,48) = 4.5,/? = .04, if = 
.09. Thus, on average, husbands' negative specific perceptions of the relationship 
seemed to remain fairly stable across the seven waves of data. Conversely, wives tended 
to perceive more specific problems in the relationship over time. 

Table 2 presents descriptive statistics for all measures of cognitive organization. 
On average, husbands and wives appeared to make relatively positive attributions for 



38 



39 

their partners' negative behaviors, seeing external causes for negative events and freeing 

their partners from blame. Tests for linear change in causal attributions were not 
significant for husbands, but were significant for wives, F (1,38) = .09, p = .76, r| = .003, 
and F (1,40) = 4.0, p = .05, if - .09, respectively. On average, then, husbands' causal 
attributions of their wives' transgressions remained fairly stable over time. However, 
wives' tendency to view their husbands as the cause of negative behaviors increased over 
time. Tests for linear change in spouses' responsibility attributions were not significant 
for husbands or for wives, F (1,38) = 3.8,/? = .06, if = .09, and F (1,40) = 2.8,/? = . 10, if 
= .07, respectively. Thus, on average, husbands' and wives' tendencies to perceive their 
partners as responsible for negative behaviors remained fairly stable over time. 

Turning to spouses' use of differential importance to organize their specific 
perceptions, the average differential importance index was positive and significant for 
both spouses across time, suggesting that, on average, husbands and wives tended to 
attribute more importance to their positive relationship perceptions than to their negative 
relationship perceptions. Tests for linear change in spouses' differential importance index 
were significant for wives but not for husbands, F (1,31) = 77.6,/? <001, if = .72, and F 
(1,31) = 2.1,/? = .16, if = .06, respectively. Thus, on average, wives seemed to exhibit a 
weaker tendency to attribute more importance to their positive relationship perceptions 
than to their negative relationship perceptions over time. Husbands' differential 
importance index, however, seemed to remain fairly stable over time. Differential 
importance was inconsistently significantly associated with both causal and responsibility 
attributions. Husbands' tendency to attribute more importance to positive relationship 
perceptions than to negative relationship perceptions was significantly associated with a 
weaker tendency to make internal and blaming attributions for a partner's negative 



40 
behavior at three of the seven time points, with correlations ranging from .08 to -.39 for 

causal attributions and from .03 to -.45 for responsibility attributions. Wives' use of 

differential importance was significantly associated with a weaker tendency to make 

internal and blaming attributions for their partners' negative behavior at four of the seven 

time points, with correlations ranging from -.09 to -.46 for causal attributions and from 

.09 to -.45 for responsibility attributions. 

Table 3 presents descriptive statistics for the measure of acute stress. On average, 
husbands and wives reported experiencing low numbers of acute negative stressors. 
However, the range of the number of stressors reported at each time point was fairly 
large, suggesting there was at least some variability in the number of stressors that 
spouses were experiencing. Tests for linear change in acute stress scores were significant 
for husbands and for wives, F(l, 36) - 1 1.5, p = .002, if - .25, and F(l,39) - 5.5, p = 
.02, rj 2 = .13, respectively. Thus, the number of acute stressors spouses reported tended to 
decrease over the seven waves of data. 

With respect to the independent and hypothesized mediating variables, wives' 
stress was significantly associated with the negativity of their specific relationship 
perceptions, with correlations ranging from .23 to .57. However, the associations 
between husbands' stress and their specific relationship perceptions rarely reached 
significance, with correlations ranging from .01 to .40. Stress was only inconsistently 
significantly associated with less relationship-enhancing cognitive organizations. In most 
cases, the association between stress and the tendency to make internal causal attributions 
for a partner's negative behavior did not reach significance, with correlations ranging 
from .08 to .30 for husbands and from .13 to .28 for wives. Likewise, the association 
between stress and the tendency to perceive the partner as responsible for negative 



41 
behaviors rarely reached significance, with correlations ranging from .05 to .25 for 

husbands and from .02 to .28 for wives. Nevertheless, stress did tend to be significantly 

associated with a weaker tendency to attribute more importance to positive relationship 

perceptions than to negative relationship perceptions (i.e., a lower differential importance 

index), with correlations ranging from -.08 to -.25 for husbands and from -.41 to .22 for 

wives. 

Spouses' cognitive content tended to be associated with their cognitive 
organization. Spouses' negative relationship perceptions were significantly associated 
with the tendency to make internal attributions for a partner's negative behavior, with 
correlations ranging from .34 to .50 for husbands and from .33 to .57 for wives. 
Similarly, spouses' negative relationship perceptions were significantly associated with a 
tendency perceive the partner as responsible for negative behaviors, with correlations 
ranging from .33 to .45 for husbands and from .22 to .49 for wives. Finally, spouses' 
negative relationship perceptions were significantly associated with a weaker tendency to 
attribute more importance to positive relationship perceptions than to negative 
relationship perceptions, with correlations ranging from -.19 to -.60 for husbands and 
from -.1 1 to -.50 for wives. Thus, all analyses examining the role of cognitive 
organization in stress spillover and crossover process controlled for spouses' cognitive 
content. 

Cross-spouse correlations for the independent and mediating variables reveal that 
husbands' and wives' stress scores were significantly associated, with correlations 
ranging from .16 to .44. With regard to cognitive content, husbands' and wives' negative 
perceptions of the relationship were significantly associated, with correlations ranging 
from .37 to .73, suggesting that spouses tended to perceive their relationships in similar 



42 
ways. Turning to measures of cognitive organization, husbands' and wives' tendencies to 

attribute their partners' negative behavior to internal causes were significantly associated 

at three of the seven time points, with correlations ranging from -.03 to .32. In addition, 

husbands' and wives' tendencies to view their partners as responsible for their negative 

behaviors tended to be significantly associated, with correlations ranging from -.09 to .43. 

Finally, husbands' and wives' tendencies to attribute more importance to their positive 

perceptions than to their negative perceptions were significantly associated, with 

correlations ranging from .52 to .81 . Thus, spouses seemed to organize their specific 

relationship beliefs in similar ways. 

In most cases, the association between husbands' stress and wives' negative 

relationship perceptions did not reach significance, with correlations ranging from .07 to 

.29. However, wives' stress was significantly associated with husbands' negative 

relationship perceptions, with correlations ranging from .05 to .48. Overall, spouses' 

stress was not significantly associated with their partners' cognitive organization. 

Husbands' and wives' stress were not significantly associated with their partners' 

tendency to make internal causal attributions for negative behaviors, with correlations 

ranging from .07 to .3 1 for husbands' stress and from -. 18 to .22 for wives' stress. 

Husbands' and wives' stress also were not significantly associated with their partners' 

tendency to make blaming attributions for negative behaviors, with correlations ranging 

from -.10 to .29 for husbands' stress and from -.05 to .27 for wives' stress. Finally, 

husbands' and wives' stress were not significantly associated with their partners' 

tendency to attribute more importance to positive relationship perceptions than to 

negative relationship perceptions, with correlations ranging from -.12 to -.29 for 

husbands' stress and from -.09 to -.33 for wives' stress. 



43 
Overall, then, preliminary analyses indicate that all measures performed generally 

as expected. In general, spouses' stress was positively and significantly related both to 

spouses' own negative relationship perceptions. Contrary to Hypothesis 2, spouses' 

stress was not consistently significantly associated with spouses' own cognitive 

organization. However, these bivariate correlations do not threaten subsequent analyses 

as they only test for a linear relationship between stress and cognitive organization rather 

than the predicted curvilinear relationship. Moreover, these correlations do not address 

the within-subjects association between changes in stress and changes in cognitive 

organization. In line with Hypothesis 3, spouses' stress was associated with their 

partners' negative specific perceptions of the relationship, but was not significantly 

related to their partners' cognitive organization. To more thoroughly examine the 

hypotheses of the current study, the following sections present the results of analyses 

conducted to investigate the within-subjects association between changes in stress and 

changes in cognitive content or cognitive organization over time. 

Do Spouses' Specific Relationship Perceptions Mediate the Stress Spillover Process? 

Previous research on stress and relationship quality consistently has demonstrated 

that the experience of stress may affect individuals' judgments of their relationships. 

However, this literature has failed to address the processes through which stress may 

negatively influence relationship judgments. The first goal of these analyses, then, was to 

examine the role of cognitive content in the stress spillover process. Hypothesis 1 

suggests that stress should contribute to the deterioration of marital satisfaction through 

its effects on spouses' specific relationship perceptions. 



44 
Hypothesis la: The Stress Spillover Hypothesis 

Hypothesis la sought to replicate and extend previous work on stress spillover. 

Specifically, we predicted that increases in spouses' external negative life events would 

be associated with decreases in their marital satisfaction over the first 3 Vi years of 

marriage. Preliminary analyses revealed that spouses' marital satisfaction seemed to 

significantly decrease over time. Thus, to examine the stress spillover hypothesis, we 

first examined the appropriate baseline model of satisfaction over time for husbands and 

for wives by comparing the following two equations: 

Satisfaction = p\,j + r jj [Equation 1] 

Satisfaction = P„j + Pij (time) + r ^ [Equation 2] 

Again, results revealed that, on average, husbands' and wives' satisfaction significantly 

declined over the first years of marriage, pij ■ -.80, SE = .23, / (81) ■ -3.4, p ■ .001, 

effect size r - .35 for husbands and pij = -1.3, SE= .27, / (81) - -4.8,/? < .001, effect size 

r = .47 for wives. Moreover, including time in the model significantly improved the fit of 



2/o\ — -7o o ~ ^ nm „.,J ~1 f)\ — 



the model for both husbands and wives, x (2) ■ 72.8, p < .001 and % (2) - 82.2, p 



< 



.001, respectively. Consequently, to address the stress spillover hypothesis, we examined 
the within-person association between spouses' stress and their marital satisfaction 
according to the following model: 

Satisfaction = Pq + Py (time) + p 2 j (stress) + r $ [Equation 3] 

where time and stress were group-mean centered. In this equation, p o j represents an 
estimate of the average positivity of a spouse's global marital satisfaction. Pij represents 
the slope of a spouse's satisfaction over the first years of marriage. p 2 j , then, captures the 
within-person association between changes in stress and changes in marital satisfaction 



45 

over the first years of marriage for a given spouse, controlling both for a spouse's 

tendency to view the relationship as more or less satisfying and for the tendency for 
satisfaction to decrease linearly over time. In other words, a negative 2 j would indicate 
that increases in a spouse's negative external stressors are associated with decreases in 
marital satisfaction above and beyond the tendency for satisfaction to decrease simply as 
a function of time. Finally, r„ is the residual variance in satisfaction for a spouse, assumed 
to be independent and normally distributed across spouses. This equation was estimated 
for each spouse and the significance of the average p2term across spouses was 
investigated. 

Results revealed that, for wives, increases in exposure to negative external 
stressors were significantly associated with decreases in marital satisfaction, p 2 j = -.42, 
SE = . 1 8, t (8 1) = -2.3, p = .02, effect size r = .23 . Thus, extending previous work, which 
has demonstrated stress spillover processes over the course of several days, these results 
provided evidence of stress spillover over the first 3 Vi years of marriage. However, 
stress spillover was not found for husbands. For husbands, changes in stress were not 
significantly associated with changes in marital satisfaction, J3 2 j = -002, SE = 16, t (81) 
= -.02, p = .99, effect size r - .002. 
Hypothesis lb: Specific Perceptions and the Stress Spillover Process 

Given that wives' stress was found to be significantly associated with their marital 
satisfaction, Hypothesis lb predicted that wives' specific relationship perceptions should 
mediate this stress spillover effect. Specifically, increases in stress were expected to be 
associated with corresponding increases in the negativity of specific relationship 
perceptions. To examine this hypothesis, the procedures for testing mediation outlined 
by Baron and Kenny (1986) were followed. In addition to Equation 3 estimated above, 



46 
Baron and Kenny (1986) argue that three additional equations must be estimated in order 

to test for mediation effects. First, the proposed mediator variable must be significantly 

associated with the outcome variable. In other words, specific relationship perceptions 

should be significantly associated with global marital satisfaction. This effect was 

modeled according to the following equation: 

Satisfaction = p\>j + Ph (time) + P2J (specific perceptions) + r $ [Equation 4] 

where time and specific perceptions were group-mean centered. In this equation, Pq 

represents an estimate of the average positivity of a wife's global marital satisfaction, pij 

represents the slope of a wife's satisfaction over the first years of marriage. p2j represents 

the within-person association between perceptions of specific problems in the 

relationship and marital satisfaction for a given wife. A negative P2J would indicate that 

in increases in the negativity of specific relationship perceptions are associated with 

decreases in overall marital satisfaction, controlling both for a wife's tendency to view 

the relationship as more or less satisfying and for the tendency of satisfaction to decrease 

linearly over time. Finally, T% is the residual variance in satisfaction for a wife, assumed 

to be independent and normally distributed across wives. This equation was estimated 

for each wife and the significance of the average P2term across wives was investigated. 

This association was in fact significant, p 2j - -.42, SE = .05, t (81) = -8.3,/? < .001, effect 

size r = .68, suggesting that changes in specific perceptions are associated with 

corresponding changes in global satisfaction over time. 

Second, the independent variable must be significantly associated with the 

proposed mediating variable. In other words, stress should be significantly associated 

with specific relationship perceptions. To model this association, we first examined the 



47 
appropriate baseline model of specific relationship perceptions over time for wives by 

comparing the following two equations: 

Specific Perceptions = p o j + r jj [Equation 5] 

Specific Perceptions = Poj + Pij (time) + r „ [Equation 6] 

Results revealed a significant tendency for wives' specific perceptions of the relationship 

to become more negative over the first years of marriage, Pij = .71, SE = .24, t (81) = 2.9, 

p = .004, effect size r— .30. Moreover, including time in the model significantly 

improved the fit of the model, x 2 (2) = 25.5, p < .001 . Consequently, the within-person 

association between stress and specific relationship perceptions was modeled according 

to the following equation: 

Specific Perceptions = p o j + Pij (time) + p 2 j (stress) + r y [Equation 7] 

where time and stress were group-mean centered. In this equation, p o j represents an 

estimate of the average negativity of a wife's specific relationship perceptions. Pij 

represents the slope of a wife's specific perceptions over the first years of marriage, p^j , 

then, captures the within-person association between stress and specific relationship 

perceptions over the first years of marriage for a given wife, controlling both for a wife's 

tendency to view the relationship more or less negatively and for the tendency for 

negative relationship perceptions to increase linearly over time. In other words, a 

positive p2j would indicate that increases in a wife's negative external stressors are 

associated with corresponding increases in a wife's perceptions of specific problems in 

the relationship, above and beyond the tendency for perceptions of specific problems to 

increase simply as a function of time. Finally, r y is the residual variance in specific 

perceptions for a wife, assumed to be independent and normally distributed across wives 



48 
This equation was estimated for each wife and the significance of the average p 2 term 
across wives was investigated. Results showed that, over the first years of marriage, 
increases in wives' exposure to negative external stressors were associated with increases 
in the negativity of wives' specific relationship perceptions, p 2 j = -67, SE = .\l,t (81) = 
3.9, p < .001, effect size r = .40. 

Finally, Baron and Kenny (1986) argue that both the independent variable and the 
predicted mediator variable should be regressed simultaneously onto the outcome 
variable. In other words, the association between stress and satisfaction and specific 
relationship perceptions and satisfaction should be estimated simultaneously. If the 
association between stress and satisfaction is lower in this equation than in Equation 3, 
this would provide evidence for mediation effects. Thus, to test for mediation, the 
following equation was modeled: 

Satisfaction = p\>j + Pij (time) + (3 2j (specific perceptions) + |3 3 j (stress) +r g [Equation 8] 
where time, specific perceptions and stress were group-mean centered. In this equation, 
p j represents an estimate of the average positivity of a wife's global marital satisfaction, 
pij represents the slope of a wife's satisfaction over the first years of marriage. {3 2 j 
represents the within-person association between perceptions of specific problems in the 
relationship and marital satisfaction. p 3j represents the within-person association 
between stress and marital satisfaction. Finally, nj is the residual variance in satisfaction 
for a wife, assumed to be independent and normally distributed across wives. This 
equation was estimated for each wife and the significance of the average (3 2 and p 3 terms 
across wives was investigated. 



49 
Results demonstrated that increases in the negativity of wives' specific 

relationship perceptions remained significantly associated with decreases in their marital 

satisfaction, p 2 j = --43, SE = .05, / (81) - -8.2, p < .001, effect size r = .67. However, 

changes in wives' stress were no longer associated with changes in wives' marital 

satisfaction, p 3j - -.03, SE= .16, f (81) = .18, /> = .86, effect sizer = .02. Consequently, 

wives' specific relationship perceptions seemed to fully mediate the stress spillover 

process. 1 

Overall, then, evidence for stress spillover was found for wives, but not for 
husbands. For wives, changes in the number of negative external stressors being 
experienced were significantly associated with changes in their global marital satisfaction 
over the first 3 V2 years of marriage, such that increases in stress were associated with 
decreases in satisfaction. Moreover, wives' specific relationship perceptions seemed to 
mediate this stress spillover process. Namely, changes in the number of external 
stressors being experienced were significantly associated with changes in wives' specific 
relationship perceptions, such that increases in stress were associated with increases in 
the negativity of wives' specific perceptions. This association between stress and specific 
perceptions seemed to account for the relationship between stress and overall satisfaction. 

Does Spouses' Cognitive Organization Mediate the Stress Spillover Process? 
The second goal of these analyses was to examine the role of cognitive organization in 
the stress spillover process. Hypothesis 2 suggests that stress also should contribute to 
the deterioration of marital satisfaction through its effects on spouses' cognitive 



1 Given the limitations of cross-sectional data for testing mediation, we further tested the 
hypothesis that specific perceptions mediate the stress spillover process by examining the 
opposite mediation effect, namely, whether satisfaction mediates the association between 
specific perceptions and stress. Evidence for full mediation was not found in this 
analysis. 



50 
organization. Again, given that evidence for stress spillover was found for wives but not 

for husbands, the following analyses relied on data from wives only. Moreover, as this 

study measured three types of cognitive organization (causal attributions, responsibility 

attributions and differential importance), each of the following analyses was conducted 

three times, using each measure of cognitive organization. 

Hypothesis 2a: Stress and Cognitive Organization 

Hypothesis 2a predicted that changes in spouses' external negative life events 

would be associated with corresponding changes in their cognitive organization over the 

first 3 Vi years of marriage, independent of changes in their cognitive content. 

Specifically, we predicted that spouses' cognitive organization would be cuvilinearly 

related to their stress, such that as stress increases from low to moderate, spouses' 

cognitive organization should become more positive. As stress increases from moderate 

to high, however, spouses' cognitive organization should become more negative. To 

examine the association between stress and cognitive organization for wives, we first 

examined the appropriate baseline model for modeling cognitive organization over time 

by comparing the following two equations for each measure of cognitive organization: 

Cognitive Organization ■ p o j + r ij [Equation 9] 

Cognitive Organization = Poj + Pij (time) + X\ [Equation 10] 

Results indicated that wives' tendency to make internal attributions for their husbands' 
behavioral transgressions tended to increase significantly over time, Py ■ .39, SE= .16, t 
(81) = 2.4, p = .02, effect size r = .26. Moreover, including time in the model 
significantly improved the fit of the model, % 2 (2) = 19.9, p < .001 . Results also revealed 



51 
p = .06, effect size r = .21, however, including time in the model nevertheless improved 

the fit of the model, % 2 (2) = 2l.3,p< .001 . Finally, wives' tendency to view positive 

relationship perceptions as more important than negative relationship perceptions 

significantly declined over time, 0ij = -.09, SE - .01, 1 (81) ■ -9.9, p < .001, effect size r 

= .74. Again, including time in the model significantly improved the fit of the model, % 

(2) = 91.7,/?<001. 

To test for a curvilinear relationship between stress and cognitive organization, 

the within-person association between wives' stress and their cognitive organization was 

then modeled according to the following equation: 

Cognitive Organization = Poj + Pij (time) + p2j (stress) + fcj (stress 2 )+ rij [Equation 11] 

where time and stress were group-mean centered. In this equation, p j represents an 

estimate of the average positivity of a wife's cognitive organization, pij represents the 

slope of a wife's cognitive organization over the first years of marriage, foj , then, 

captures the association between cognitive organization and stress over the first years of 

marriage for a given wife, controlling both for a wife's tendency to organize specific 

perceptions more or less positively and for the tendency of cognitive organization to 

change linearly over time. In other words, in the case of causal or responsibility 

attributions, a positive f} 2 j would indicate that increases in a wife's negative external 

stressors are associated with decreases in the positivity of a wife's cognitive organization. 

In the case of differential importance, a negative fa} would indicate that increases in a 

wife's negative external stressors are associated with decreases in the positivity of a 

wife's cognitive organization. p3j captures the curvilinear association between stress and 

cognitive organization, again controlling for a wife's tendency to organize specific 



52 
perceptions more or less positively and for the tendency of cognitive organization to 

change linearly over time. In the case of causal and responsibility attributions, a. positive 

p 3 j would indicate the predicted U-shape curve. In the case of differential importance, a 

negative p 3 j would indicate the predicted U-shape curve. Finally, rij is the residual 

variance in cognitive organization for a wife, assumed to be independent and normally 

distributed across wives. This equation was estimated for each wife and the significance 

of the average p 3 term across wives was investigated. 

Results revealed no significant curvilinear associations between stress and 
cognitive organization, p 3j = -05, SE = .03, / (81) = -.1.8,/; = .08, effect size r - .20 for 
causality attributions; p 3j = 001, SE - .04, t (81) = .02, p - .99, effect size r = .002 for 
responsibility attributions; and p 3j = -.0001, SE = .002, t (81) = -.09, p = .93, effect size r 
= .01 for differential importance. 

To test for a linear relationship between stress and cognitive organization, then, 
the within-person association between stress and cognitive organization was modeled 
according to the following equation: 

Cognitive Organization = P„j + pij (time) + fo (stress) + r g [Equation 12] 

where time and stress were group-mean centered. As in the previous equation, 02j , 
captures the association between cognitive organization and stress over the first years of 
marriage for a given wife, controlling both for a wife's tendency to organize specific 
perceptions more or less positively and for the tendency of cognitive organization to 
change linearly over time. Again, in the case of causal or responsibility attributions, a 
positive p 2 j would indicate that increases in a wife's negative external stressors are 
associated with decreases in the positivity of a wife's cognitive organization. In the case 






53 
of differential importance, a negative p 2 j would indicate that increases in a wife's 

negative external stressors are associated with decreases in the positivity of a wife's 
cognitive organization. This equation was estimated for each wife and the significance of 
the average p 2 term across wives was investigated. 

Results indicated no significant linear association between wives' causality 
attributions and their stress, % = .17, SE= .13, t (81) = 1.3,/? - .18, effect sizer = .14. 
However, increases in wives' stress were significantly associated with a stronger 
tendency to blame the partner for negative behaviors, fry ■ 46, SE= .17, / (81) = 2.7, p = 
.007, effect size r = .29. Wives' stress was not significantly associated with their 
tendency to attribute more importance to positive relationship perceptions than to 
negative relationship perceptions, p 2 j = 01, SE = .01, / (81) = .52, p = .60, effect size r = 
.06. 

Preliminary analyses revealed that spouses' cognitive organization tended to be 
significantly associated with their cognitive content. Thus, to determine whether the 
association between wives' stress and their responsibility attributions was independent of 
wives' cognitive content, the following equation was estimated: 

Responsibility = (3 j+ Pij (time) + p 2j (stress) + p 3 j (specific perceptions)+ r| 

[Equation 13] 
where time, stress, and specific perceptions were group-mean centered. Thus, in this 
equation, p 2 j represents the association between responsibility attributions and stress over 
the first years of marriage for a given wife, controlling for the association between a 
wife's specific relationship perceptions and her responsibility attributions. Results 
indicated that wives' specific relationship perceptions were in fact significantly 



54 
associated with their responsibility attributions for their husbands' negative behaviors, foj 

- .13, SE = .05, / (81) - 2.9, p = .004, effect size r = .31. Thus, as wives' specific 

perceptions of the relationship became more negative, they also exhibited a stronger 

tendency to perceive their husbands as responsible for negative behaviors. Controlling 

for this association, however, wives' stress remained significantly associated with their 

responsibility attributions, such that increases in wives' stress were associated with a 

stronger tendency for wives to perceive their husbands as responsible for negative 

behaviors, p 2 j = 33, SE - .17, t (81) = 2.0,/? = .05, effect size r - .22. 

Overall, then, no evidence was found for the predicted curvilinear relationship 
between stress and cognitive organization. However, some evidence revealed a linear 
association between stress and cognitive organization, such that increases in wives' stress 
were associated with decreases in the positivity of wives' cognitive organization. 
Namely, changes in wives' stress were significantly associated with changes in wives' 
tendency to perceive their husbands as responsible for negative behaviors, even when 
controlling for the general negativity of wives' cognitive content. 
Hypothesis 2b: Cognitive Organization and the Stress Spillover Process 

Hypothesis 2b suggested that spouses' cognitive organization should mediate the 
stress spillover process. To examine this hypothesis, the procedures for testing mediation 
outlined by Baron and Kenny (1986) were followed. In addition to Equation 3, which 
modeled the stress spillover phenomenon, and Equation 13, which modeled the 
association between stress and responsibility attributions controlling for cognitive 
content, two additional equations must be estimated in order to test for mediation effects. 
First, the proposed mediator variable, responsibility attributions, must be significantly 



55 
associated with the outcome variable, global marital satisfaction. This effect was 

modeled according to the following equation: 

Satisfaction = p j+ Pij (time) + p 2 j (specific perceptions) 

+ p 3j (responsibility attributions)+ Hj [Equation 14] 

where specific perceptions and responsibility attributions were group-mean centered. In 

this equation, p oj represents an estimate of the average positivity of a wife's global 

marital satisfaction. Pij represents the slope of a wife's satisfaction over the first years of 

marriage. p2j represents the within-person association between specific relationship 

perceptions and global marital satisfaction. |3 3 j represents the within-person association 

between responsibility attributions and marital satisfaction. A negative p 3 j would 

indicate that increases in the tendency to perceive a partner as more responsible for 

negative behaviors are associated with decreases in overall marital satisfaction, 

controlling for a wife's tendency to view the relationship as more or less satisfying, for 

the tendency for satisfaction to decrease linearly over time, and for wives' cognitive 

content. In other words, p 3 j examines the association between cognitive organization and 

marital satisfaction, controlling for the association between cognitive content and marital 

satisfaction. Finally, r u is the residual variance in satisfaction for a wife, assumed to be 

independent and normally distributed across wives. This equation was estimated for each 

wife and the significance of the average p 3 term across wives was investigated. The 

association was in fact significant, p 3j = -.09, SE= .03, / (81) - -2.7, p = .008, effect size 

r = .29, suggesting that changes in wives' responsibility attributions were associated with 

changes in wives' marital satisfaction, controlling for wives' specific perceptions of 

problems in the relationship. 



56 

Second, the association between stress and satisfaction and cognitive organization 

and satisfaction were estimated simultaneously. If the association between stress and 
satisfaction is lower in this equation than in Equation 3, this result would provide 
evidence for mediation effects. Thus, to test for mediation, the following equation was 
modeled: 

Satisfaction = Poj+ Pij (time) + p 2 j (responsibility 

attributions)+ p 3j (stress) +r$ [Equation 15] 

where time, responsibility attributions, and stress were group-mean centered. In this 
equation, p o j represents an estimate of the average positivity of a wife's global marital 
satisfaction. Pij represents the slope of a wife's satisfaction over the first years of 
marriage. p 2 j represents the within-person association between responsibility attributions 
and marital satisfaction. p 3 j represents the within-person association between stress and 
marital satisfaction. Finally, r„ is the residual variance in satisfaction for a wife, assumed 
to be independent and normally distributed across wives. Given that previous results 
indicated that wives' perceptions of specific problems in the relationship fully mediated 
the stress spillover process, this variable was not included in the present equation. This 
equation was estimated for each wife and the significance of the average p 3 terms across 
wives was investigated. 

Results demonstrated that increases in the tendency to perceive a partner as 
responsible for negative behaviors remained significantly associated with decreases in 
marital satisfaction, p 2j = -.20, SE= .05, t (81) = -3.8,/? < .001, effect size r = .39. 
However, the association between wives' stress and their marital satisfaction was no 
longer significant, p 3 j = -.22, SE= .14, t (81) = -1.5, p = .13, effect size r = .16. 



57 
Consequently, wives' responsibility attributions seemed to fully mediate the stress 

spillover process. Namely, increases in stress were associated with less positive 
cognitive organization (i.e., a stronger tendency to perceive a partner as responsible for 
negative behaviors), even when controlling for the negativity of spouses' specific 
relationship perceptions. This association seemed to account for the stress spillover 
effect. 2 

Do Spouses' External Stressors Interact to Affect Marital Satisfaction? 
Previous research has found that spouses' stress may affect not only spouses' own 
marital satisfaction, but also the marital satisfaction of their partners. However, this 
research has examined stress crossover without regard for the amount of stress partners 
may be experiencing themselves. The third goal of these analyses, then, was to examine 
the role of the partner's own stress in the stress crossover process. Hypothesis 3 suggests 
that partners' own stressful experiences may moderate the association between spouses' 
stress and partners' marital satisfaction. 
Hypothesis 3a: The Stress Crossover Hypothesis 

Hypothesis 3a first sought to replicate and extend previous work on stress crossover. 
Specifically, we predicted that increases in spouses' external negative life events would 
be associated with decreases in their partners' marital satisfaction over the first 3 !/a years 
of marriage. Results from Hypothesis la revealed that including time in the baseline 
model of satisfaction significantly improved the fit of the model for both husband and 
wives. Thus, the within-person association between spouses' stress and their partners' 



2 Given the limitations of cross-sectional data for testing mediation, we further tested the 
hypothesis that responsibility attributions mediate the stress spillover process by 
examining the opposite mediation effect, namely, whether satisfaction mediates the 
association between responsibility attributions and stress. Evidence for full mediation 
was not found in this analysis. 



58 
marital satisfaction was examined using the following equation: 

Partner's Satisfaction = p o j + Pij (time) + p 2 j (spouse's stress) + r g [Equation 17] 

where time and spouse's stress were group-mean centered. In this equation, poj 

represents an estimate of the average positivity of a partner's global marital satisfaction. 

Pij represents the slope of a partner's satisfaction over the first years of marriage. p 2 j , 

then, captures the within-person association between partners' marital satisfaction and 

their spouses' stress over the first years of marriage for a given partner, controlling both 

for a partner's tendency to view the relationship as more or less satisfying and for the 

tendency of satisfaction to decrease linearly over time. In other words, a negative p2j 

would indicate that increases in a spouse's negative external stressors are associated with 

decreases in a partner's marital satisfaction above and beyond the tendency for 

satisfaction to decrease simply as a function of time. Finally, r$ is the residual variance in 

satisfaction for a partner, assumed to be independent and normally distributed across 

partners. This equation was estimated for each partner and the significance of the 

average p 2 term across partners was investigated. 

Evidence of stress crossover was not found for husbands, p 2 j ■ -.07, SE=.\3,t 
(81) - -.55, p = .58, effect size r = .06. Thus, changes in wives' stress were not 
associated with changes in their husbands' marital satisfaction. However, increases in 
husbands' stress were associated with corresponding decreases in wives' marital 
satisfaction, p 2j = -.30, SE = . 13, t (81) = -2.2, p = .03, effect size r = .24. Thus, these 
results provide evidence of stress crossover over the first 3 14 years of marriage. 

Given that wives' stress tended to be moderately correlated with their husbands' 
stress, we then investigated whether this stress crossover effect was independent of 



59 
wives' stress spillover effect according to the following model: 

Wives' Satisfaction = (3 j+ pi; (time) + p 2 j (wives' stress) +p 3 j (husbands' stress) +T| 

[Equation 18] 

where time, husbands' stress and wives' stress were group-mean centered. In this 

equation, p o j represents an estimate of the average positivity of a wife's global marital 

satisfaction. Pij represents the slope of a wife's satisfaction over the first years of 

marriage. p 2 j captures the within-person association between a wife's satisfaction and her 

own stress. In other words, p 2 j is an estimate of stress spillover. (3 3 j , then, captures the 

within-person association between a wife's satisfaction and a husband's stress. In other 

words, 03J estimates stress crossover controlling for stress spillover. Finally, r;j is the 

residual variance in satisfaction for a wife, assumed to be independent and normally 

distributed across wives. This equation was estimated for each wife and the significance 

of the average p 2 and p3 terms across wives was investigated. 

Results indicated that the association between wives' stress and their own 

satisfaction remained significant, p 2 j = -.38, ££=.18, ^ (81) = -2.1,/? = .04, effect size/- 

= .23. Controlling for this association, however, the association between husband's stress 

and wives' satisfaction was no longer significant, P3J = -. 16, SE = . 14, / (81) = -1 . 1, p = 

.26, effect size r = . 12. Thus, these results suggest that the previous evidence for a stress 

crossover effect may be due simply to the correlation between husbands' and wives' 

external stressors. As evidence of an independent stress crossover effect was not found, 

the results of further analyses regarding the mediators and moderators of this effect (i.e., 

Hypotheses 3c-3f) are not reported. 



60 
Hypothesis 3b: Partners' Own Stress and the Stress Crossover Process 

Though evidence of an independent crossover effect was not found, the possibility 

remains that husbands' and wives' stress may interact to affect wives' satisfaction. 

Hypothesis 3b predicted that the greatest declines in satisfaction should occur when both 

spouses are experiencing high levels of external stress. This hypothesis was modeled 

according to the following equation: 

Wives' Satisfaction = p o j + Pij (time) + fcj (husband's stress) +03j (wives' 

stress) +p4j (husbands' stress X wives' stress)+r y [Equation 19] 

where time, husbands' stress and wives' stress were group-mean centered. In this 

equation, p o j represents an estimate of the average positivity of a wife's global marital 

satisfaction. Pij represents the slope of a wife's satisfaction over the first years of 

marriage. p2j , then, captures the within-person association between a wife's satisfaction 

and a husband's stress. In, other words, 02* is an estimate of stress crossover. (33j captures 

the within-person association between a wife's satisfaction and her own stress. In other 

words, 03j is an estimate of stress spillover. fUj captures the within-person association 

between the interaction of spouses' stress and the wife's satisfaction, controlling both for 

the wife's tendency to view the relationship more or less positively and for the tendency 

for satisfaction to decrease linearly over time. Finally, r y - is the residual variance in 

satisfaction for a wife, assumed to be independent and normally distributed across wives. 

This equation was estimated for each wife and the significance of the average P4term 

across wives was investigated. Results indicated that the association between the 

interaction of stress and wives' satisfaction was not significant, p4j = -.14, SE= .10, / (81) 



61 

= - 1 .4, p = . 1 6, effect size r * .15. Thus, evidence for the interactive effects of stress on 

satisfaction was not found. 

Is Stress Always Detrimental to Relationship Outcomes? 

Results thus far suggest that the experience of external stressors may be harmful 
for one's own relationship judgments. However, recent theories have argued that under 
some circumstances, stress may actually enhance well-being. The final goal of these 
analyses was to examine whether successful coping with stress early in the relationship 
may lead spouses to be resilient to future stress. Hypothesis 4 suggests that spouses who 
successfully cope with stress may emerge from the experience as less susceptible to the 
adverse effects of later stressors. 
Hypotheses 4a and 4b: Coping. Satisfaction, and Stress Spillover 

Hypothesis 4a suggested that spouses who maintain a positive organization of 
relationship perceptions in the face of external stress should be less vulnerable to declines 
in relationship satisfaction over time. Similarly, Hypothesis 4b predicted that spouses 
who maintain a positive organization of relationship perceptions in the face of external 
stress early in the relationship would be less vulnerable to stress spillover effects over 
time. These hypotheses were addressed simultaneously by re-examining the following 
previously estimated equation: 

Satisfaction = p„j + Pij (time)+ p 2 j (stress) + r „ [Equation 3] 

where time and stress were group-mean centered. Again, in this equation, pij represents 
the slope of a spouse's satisfaction over the first years of marriage. p 2 j captures the 
within-person association between spouses' satisfaction and their stress. In other words, 
P 2 j is an estimate of stress spillover over the first years of marriage. 



62 
To determine the association between coping with early external stress and 

marital satisfaction over time, the following equation was then estimated at the between- 
subjects level of the HLM analysis: 

Pij = Yio+Yn(Tl Stress)+yi 2 (Tl Cognitive Organization) 

+ Y13 (Tl Stress X Tl Cognitive Organization^ u.ij [Equation 20] 

where stress and cognitive organization were grand-mean centered. In this equation, yio 
represents an estimate of the average slope of spouses' marital satisfaction over time, yn 
represents the association between spouses' Time 1 stress and the slope of their 
satisfaction. Thus, a negative yn would indicate that spouses with the highest level of 
stress at Time 1 also experienced the greatest declines in satisfaction over time. y 2 2 
represents the association between spouses' Time 1 cognitive organization and the slope 
of their satisfaction. For causality and responsibility attributions, a negative yn would 
indicate that spouses with the poorest cognitive organization at Time 1 also experienced 
the greatest declines in satisfaction over time. For differential importance, a. positive yi 2 
would indicate that spouses with the poorest cognitive organization at Time 1 also 
experienced the greatest declines in satisfaction over time, yn captures the association 
between the interaction of stress and cognitive organization at Time 1 and the slope of 
satisfaction over time. In other words, yn represents the association between coping with 
early stress and satisfaction over time. Finally, M-ij is the residual variability in the slope 
of satisfaction that remains to be explained after controlling for stress, cognitive 
organization and the interaction of these two variables. This equation was estimated using 
each measure of cognitive organization and the significance of the average ynterm was 
investigated. 



63 

Results revealed only one significant main effect for husbands. Namely, 

husbands' Time 1 differential importance index was associated with the stability of their 
satisfaction over time, such that a more positive organization was associated with less 
decline in satisfaction over the early years of marriage, 712= 83, SE = .42, / (79) = 2.0, p 
= .05, effect size r = .22. No significant main effects were found for wives. Turning to 
the interaction terms, results indicated that the interaction between stress and causality 
attributions was not significantly associated with the slope of satisfaction over time for 
husbands or for wives, y M = .002, SE = .005, / (78) = .44, p = .66, effect size r - .002 and 
Y13 = .009, SE = .008, / (78) = 1 .09, p = .28, effect size r = . 12, respectively. However, 
the interaction between stress and responsibility attributions was significantly associated 
with the slope of satisfaction over time for husbands, Yb= -.01, SE= .006, / (78) = -1.9,/? 
= .05, effect size r = .21. This interaction was plotted using stress scores and 
responsibility attribution scores that were one standard below the mean and one standard 
deviation above the mean. As seen in Figure 1, husbands who maintained a more 
positive cognitive organization in the face of stress at Time 1 (i.e., tended not to blame 
their partners for negative behaviors) also experienced less decline in their satisfaction 
over time. In other words, for husbands, adaptively coping with stress by maintaining a 
positive cognitive organization was associated with more stable satisfaction over time 
than was unsuccessfully coping with that stress. Moreover, the size of this effect appears 
to be larger under conditions of low stress than under conditions of high stress. The type 
of attributions husbands made under low stress seemed to have a large influence on future 
satisfaction. Namely, the ability to make positive attributions under low stress seemed to 
contribute to the maintenance of satisfaction over time. However, under high stress, the 
ability to make positive attributions for a partner's negative behaviors appeared to have a 



64 
smaller protective effect on future satisfaction. In other words, attributions appeared to 

play less of a role when husbands were experiencing high stress. This interaction was not 
significant for wives, yi 3 = 006, SE= .004, / (78) = 17,/? = .08, effect size r = .19. 
Finally, the interaction between stress and differential importance was not significantly 
associated with the slope of satisfaction for husbands or for wives, Y13 " -22, SE = .25, / 
(78) = -.90, p = .37, effect size r - .10 and y, 3 = -.26, SE= .33, t (78) - -.80,/; = .42, 
effect size r = .09, respectively. 

To determine the association between coping with early external stress and stress 
spillover over time, the following equation also was estimated at the between-subjects 
level: 

p2j ■ Y20 + Y21 (Tl Stress)+ y 2 2 (Tl Cognitive Organization) 

+ 723 (T 1 Stress X T 1 Cognitive Organization^ u 2j [Equation 2 1 ] 

where stress and cognitive organization were grand-mean centered. In this equation, Y20 
represents an estimate of the average stress spillover effect. y 2 i represents the association 
between spouses' Time 1 stress and their stress spillover. Thus, a negative y 2 i would 
indicate that spouses with the highest level of stress at Time 1 also experienced the 
greatest stress spillover over time. Y22 represents the association between spouses' Time 1 
cognitive organization and their stress spillover. For causality and responsibility 
attributions, a negative y 22 would indicate that spouses with the poorest cognitive 
organization at Time 1 also experienced the greatest stress spillover over time. For 
differential importance, a positive y 22 would indicate that spouses with the poorest 
cognitive organization at Time 1 also experienced the greatest stress spillover over time. 
y 23 captures the association between the interaction of stress and cognitive organization at 



65 
Time 1 and stress spillover. Finally, U2j is the residual variability in stress spillover that 

remains to be explained after controlling for stress, cognitive organization and the 

interaction of these two variables. This equation was estimated using each measure of 

cognitive organization and the significance of the average 723 term was investigated. 

Results revealed one significant main effect for husbands. Contrary to 

expectations, husbands with the most negative responsibility attributions at Time 1 

tended to experience the least stress spillover over time, 722 = 02, SE = .01, f (79) = 2.4, p 

= .02, effect size r = .26. One marginally significant main effect was found for wives. 

There was a trend for wives with the most negative causality attributions for their 

partners' negative behavior at Time 1 also to experience the most stress spillover over 

time, Y22 = -03, SE = .02, / (79) = -1 .9, p = .06, effect size r = .21 . Turning to the 

interaction terms, results indicated that the interaction between stress and causality 

attributions was not significantly associated with stress spillover over time for husbands, 

Y23 = -002, SE= .001, t (78) = -.71,/? = .48, effect size r = .08. However, this interaction 

was significant for wives, y 23 = .005, SE = .02, t (78) - 2.3, p = .02, effect size r = .25. 

This interaction was plotted using stress scores and causality attribution scores that were 

one standard deviation below the mean and one standard deviation above the mean. 

Consistent with the previous results for husbands, attributions tended to play a stronger 

role under conditions of low stress than under conditions of high stress. As seen in 

Figure 2, wives who maintained a more positive cognitive organization in the face of low 

stress at Time 1 (i.e., tended not to see their partners as the cause of their negative 

behaviors) also experienced less stress spillover over time. Thus, coping well with low 

stress at Time 1 seemed to have a protective effect on future spillover. However, wives' 



66 
Time 1 cognitive organization under conditions of high stress did not have this protective 

effect. Under high stress, wives, initial coping seemed to have little effect on future 

stress spillover. Importantly, though there appears to be a significant main effect of Time 

1 stress on future spillover, this main effect was not significant. The interaction between 

responsibility attributions and stress was not significantly associated with stress spillover 

for husbands or for wives, y 23 = 001, SE = .002, / (78) = .34, p = .73, effect size r = .08 

and y 2 3 = 003, SE = .002, t (78) = 1 .3, p = . 1 8, effect size r = . 14, respectively. Finally, 

the interaction between stress and differential importance was not significantly associated 

with stress spillover for husbands or for wives, 723 - 03, SE - . 16, t (78) =18,/? = .85, 

effect size r = .02 and y 23 = . 12, SE = . 13, / (78) = .97, p = .33, effect size r- .11, 

respectively. Overall, then, only some support was found for the hypotheses that initial 

coping is associated with future satisfaction and stress spillover. 

Hypotheses 4c: Initial Coping and Future Coping 

Hypothesis 4c predicted that successful coping with stress early in the relationship 
should serve to bolster intimates' ability to successfully cope with stress in the future. In 
other words, spouses who maintain a positive organization of relationship perceptions in 
the face of external stress should be even more likely to maintain a positive organization 
when faced with stress later in the relationship. To address this hypothesis, the following 
equation was estimated at the between-subjects level using hierarchical regression 
analyses: 

T7 Cognitive Organization = p oj + Pij (T7 Stress)+ p 2j (Tl Stress)+p 3j (Tl 

Organization^ p 4j (Tl Stress X Tl Organization)+error [Equation 22] 
This equation was estimated using each measure of cognitive organization. 



67 
With regard to causality attributions, results revealed no significant main effects 

of Time 7 stress on Time 7 causality attributions for husbands or for wives, Pij = -.53, SE 

- .64, / (81) = -.84, p = .41, effect size r = . 1 1 and p u = .004, SE = .74, t (54) = -.06, p = 

.96, effect size r = .01, respectively. A significant main effect of Time 1 stress on Time 7 

cognitive organization was found for husbands, p2j = 1 2, SE = .48, / (54) = 2.4, p = .02, 

effect size r = .3 1, though not for wives, p 2 j ■ 77, SE = .49, / (54) = 1 .6, /? = . 12, effect 

size r— .17. Thus, husbands experiencing higher stress at Time 1 also exhibited more 

negative causality attributions at Time 7. Moreover, a significant main effect of Time 1 

causality attributions on Time 7 causality attributions for both husbands and wives, $■% = 

.48, SE = A7,t (54) = 2.9, p = .006, effect size r = .21 and (3 3 j - .49, SE = . 18, / (54) - 

2S,p = .007, effect size r = .21, such that spouses with more negative causality 

attributions at Time 1 also reported more negative causality attributions at Time 7. 

Contrary to our hypothesis, the interaction between Time 1 causality attributions and 

Time 1 stress was not significantly associated with Time 7 causality attributions for 

husbands or for wives, p 4 j = -007, SE - .05, t (52) - -.84, p = .40, effect size r = . 12 and 

p 4j - -.004, SE - .05, / (52) - -1.4,/? = .16, effect size r = . 19, respectively. 

Turning to responsibility attributions, no main effects on Time 7 responsibility 

attributions were found for husbands. However, one significant main effect was found 

for wives. Namely, wives with more negative responsibility attributions at Time 1 also 

reported more negative responsibility attributions at Time 7, 03j = .49, SE = .15, t (54) = 

-3.3, p = .002, effect size r = .41. Again, contrary to our predictions, the interaction 

between Time 1 stress and Time 1 responsibility attributions was not significantly 

associated with Time 7 responsibility attributions for husbands or for wives, fUj = 005, 



68 
SE = .06, / (52) - .83, p = A\, effect size r = . 1 1 and p 4 j = -004, SE = .05, t (52) - -.89, p 

= .38, effect size r = .12, respectively. 

Finally, with regard to differential importance, no main effects on Time 7 

differential importance were found for husbands. For wives, however, there was a 

significant main effect of Time 7 stress on Time 7 differential importance, such that 

wives reporting more stress at Time 7 also demonstrated a less positive cognitive 

organization at Time 7, 0u ■ -.06, SE - .03, / (52) = -2.0, p = .05, effect size r = .27. In 

addition, there was a marginal main effect of Time 1 stress on wives' Time 7 differential 

importance index, such that wives reporting more stress at Time 1 demonstrated a 

tendency to maintain a less positive cognitive organization at Time 7, fa ~ - 03, SE = 

.02, / (52) ■ -1.9,/? = .06, effect size r = .25. Nevertheless, the interaction between Time 

1 stress and Time 1 differential importance was not significantly associated with Time 7 

differential importance for husbands or for wives, p4j = - 20, SE * .14, t (50) = -1 .4, p = 

.16, effect size r = . 14, and fa = -.13, SE= .08, t (50) = -1 .6, p = . 12, effect size r ■ .22, 

respectively. Overall, then, no support was found for the hypothesis that adaptive coping 

at Time 1 is associated with even better coping at Time 7. 



69 



Table 1 

Mean of Global Marital Quality and Specific Marital Problem Scores Across Seven 
Waves of Measurement for Husbands and Wives 



Spouse 



Time 1 Time 2 Time 3 Time 4 Time 5 Time 6 Time 7 



Husbands 

M 
SD 
N 
Wives 

M 
SD 

N 



Husbands 

M 

SD 

N 
Wives 

M 
SD 

N 



96.3 


92.0 


92.5 


8.8 


14.1 


14.8 


81 


76 


74 


97.7 


94.8 


93.3 


10.7 


12.9 


16.0 


82 


77 


73 



31.3 

16.2 

82 

29.2 

17.3 

82 



Global Marital Satisfaction 



92.1 

14.7 

67 

92.1 

14.7 

68 



93.5 

13.9 

64 

93.8 

15.6 

66 



Inventory of Specific Marital Problems 



30.1 

17.1 

75 

27.8 
15.8 
76 



29.7 

15.8 

74 

30.5 

18.7 

73 



29.8 

17.2 

67 

29.1 

17.1 

66 



29.9 

17.3 

64 

27.4 

14.5 

66 



92.1 

15.5 

59 

90.0 

19.4 

61 



30.4 

17.7 

59 

30.8 

18.1 

61 



91.1 

16.9 

60 

89.1 

19.6 

62 



31.3 

20.0 

60 

31.5 

18.7 

62 



Note: For the Inventory of Specific Marital Problems, higher scores indicate a more 
negative view of the relationship. 



70 



Table 2 

Mean of Attribution Scores and the Differential Importance Index Across Seven Waves 
of Measurement for Husbands and Wives 



Spouse Time 1 Time 2 Time 3 Time 4 Time 5 Time 6 Time7 



Causal Attributions 



Husbands 

M 
SD 
N 
Wives 

M 
SD 

N 



42.9 

10.9 

82 

44.9 
9.8 
82 



46.8 
10.4 
75 

45.4 

10.2 

76 



45.9 

10.5 

64 

46.3 

10.2 

64 



45.2 

11.4 

58 

46.2 

10.0 

63 



46.1 

10.3 

58 

45.9 

11.3 

62 



44.5 
13.2 

53 

47.3 

12.4 

55 



43.5 

13.8 

54 

47.9 

11.9 

55 



Husbands 

M 
SD 
N 
Wives 

M 
SD 

N 



Responsibility Attributions 



32.8 


36.0 


35.3 


35.5 


35.1 


35.3 


33.0 


12.1 


12.3 


13.0 


14.7 


13.1 


15.7 


14.9 


82 


75 


64 


58 


58 


53 


54 


34.9 


35.7 


38.2 


35.9 


36.1 


36.1 


37.9 


14.4 


12.7 


13.5 


14.1 


14.4 


13.6 


16.7 


82 


76 


64 


63 


62 


55 


55 



Husbands 

M 
SD 
N 
Wives 

M 
SD 

N 



Differential Importance Index 



.84 


.39 


.49 


.50 


.42 


.56 


.44 


.39 


.53 


.43 


.54 


.87 


.96 


.81 


82 


76 


64 


60 


58 


52 


54 


.82 


.87 


1.08 


.34 


.20 


.24 


.29 


.22 


.53 


.71 


.48 


.48 


.93 


.81 


82 


76 


64 


60 


58 


52 


54 



Note : For each of the attribution sub-scales, higher scores indicate a more negative 
cognitive organization. For the differential importance index, higher scores indicate a 
more positive cognitive organization. 



71 
Table 3 

Mean of Acute Stress Scores Across Seven Waves of Measurement for Husbands and 



Wives 


Spouse 


Time 1 


Time 2 


Time 3 


Time 4 


Time 5 


Time 6 


Time7 



Husbands 



M 


5.2 


3.5 


3.4 


3.3 


3.0 


2.8 


3.2 


SD 


3.5 


2.7 


3.0 


2.4 


2.3 


2.6 


2.7 


Max 


17 


12 


18 


10 


9 


11 


10 


N 


82 


76 


65 


56 


57 


52 


53 



Wives 

M 5.5 4.2 4.2 4.0 3.2 3.9 3.8 

SD 3.6 3.0 3.7 3.4 2.6 2.8 2.3 

Max 18 12 20 14 12 13 9 

N 82 76 64 63 61 54 55 









72 









0.5 



-2.5 



-3.5 





I Negative 
Organization 

I Positive Organization 



Low Stress 



High Stress 



Figure 1 . The Interaction of Stress and Responsibility Attributions on the Slope of 
Satisfaction for Husbands. 



73 



Less 

Stress 

Spillover 



More 
Stress 
Spillover -2.5 




I Negative Organization 



I Positive Organization 



Low Stress High Stress 



Figure 2. The Interaction of Stress and Causality Attributions on Stress Spillover for 
Wives. 



DISCUSSION 

Study Rationale and Summary of Results 

Part of maintaining a close relationship over time involves navigating the negative 
life events external to the relationship, such as work stress or financial stress, that may 
nevertheless strain the relationship. Understanding change and stability in relationship 
satisfaction may therefore require an understanding of the broader context in which the 
relationship is embedded. In fact, ample research has linked the external stressful 
circumstances surrounding a marriage to relationship outcomes. This research has 
demonstrated that individuals' stress may have a detrimental effect on their relationship 
evaluations, a phenomenon known as stress spillover (Tesser & Beach, 1998). Moreover, 
individuals' stress may have negative consequences for their partners' relationship 
evaluations, a phenomenon known as stress crossover (Thompson & Bolger, 1999). This 
dissertation attempted to further our understanding of the association between external 
stress and relationship quality by addressing three important limitations of the existing 
stress spillover/crossover literature. 

First, the existing literature on stress and relationship quality has failed to 
investigate the potential mechanisms through which negative external stressors may 
affect individuals' relationship satisfaction. We predicted that external stress should 
influence spouses' satisfaction by affecting spouses' specific relationship beliefs, as well 
as the organization of those beliefs. In other words, the experience of external stressors 
should provide individuals with more negativity to deal with in the relationship and 

74 



75 
affect individuals' ability to subsequently cope with this increase in negative relationship 

perceptions. The first goal of the study, then, was to examine the role of spouses' 

cognitive content in the stress spillover process. In pursuit of this goal, Hypothesis 1 

stated that external stress should affect spouses' relationship satisfaction through its 

effects on spouses' specific relationship perceptions. This prediction was supported for 

wives, though not for husbands. Replicating and expanding previous research on stress 

spillover, which has demonstrated the effects of stress spillover over the course of several 

days, the current study found evidence for stress spillover over the first 3 V 2 years of 

marriage. Within-subjects analyses revealed that increases in wives' stress were 

associated with decreases in their marital satisfaction over time. Moreover, wives' 

specific relationship perceptions fully mediated this association. Wives' stress was 

associated with the negativity of wives' specific relationship perceptions, such that as 

wives' stress increased, they also tended to perceive more specific problems in the 

relationship. This association seemed to account for the stress spillover effect. Thus, the 

current findings suggest that one way in which external stress may lead to declines in 

satisfaction is by increasing the negativity of spouses' cognitive content. 

The second goal of the study was to examine the role of spouses' cognitive 

organization in the stress spillover process. Hypothesis 2 stated that external stress also 

should affect spouses' relationship satisfaction through its effects on spouses' cognitive 

organization, controlling for spouses' cognitive content. This hypothesis was partially 

supported for wives. Specifically, Hypothesis 2 predicted a curvilinear relationship 

between stress and cognitive organization, such that as stress increased from low to 

moderate, stress was not expected to interfere with spouses' ability to organize their 

specific perceptions. Thus, as stress increased from low to moderate, spouses' cognitive 



76 
organization was expected to become more relationship-enhancing. However, as stress 

increased from moderate to high, we predicted that coping with stress would tax 
intimates' cognitive resources, and therefore interfere with spouses' ability to cope with 
negative specific perceptions of the relationship. Thus, as stress increased from moderate 
to high, spouses' cognitive organization was expected to become less relationship- 
enhancing. Evidence for a curvilinear relationship between stress and cognitive 
organization was not found on any measure of cognitive organization. However, further 
analyses provided some evidence for a linear relationship between stress and cognitive 
organization, such that increases in stress were associated with a less relationship- 
enhancing cognitive organization. For wives, increases in external stress were associated 
with an increased tendency to make blaming attributions for a partner's behavioral 
transgressions over the first years of marriage, even when controlling for the general 
negativity of wives' specific relationship perceptions. In other words, wives' stress was 
associated with the nature of their responsibility attributions, independent of wives' 
cognitive content. Moreover, wives' responsibility attributions fully mediated the stress 
spillover process. Thus, in line with the second prediction of Hypothesis 2, some 
evidence indicated that stress may lead to declines in satisfaction by limiting spouses' 
ability to separate their negative specific relationship perceptions from their global 
relationship satisfaction. 

Overall, then, results revealed modest support for the proposed model suggesting 
that external stress may affect marital satisfaction through two general routes. First, stress 
was predicted to affect spouses' specific perceptions of the relationship. In fact, strong 
support was found for the role of cognitive content in the stress spillover process. 
Second, stress was predicted to affect the structure of spouses' specific relationship 



77 
perceptions. Evidence for the role of cognitive organization in the stress spillover 

process, though, was somewhat weaker. The current data provided no evidence for the 

predicted curvilinear relationship between stress and cognitive organization. One reason 

for the failure to find this predicted association may involve a lack of statistical power. 

Though the current study measured seven waves of data, only 62 spouses provided data 

for at least four of the seven time points. Consequently, the current study had low power 

for detecting a curvilinear relationship. Moreover, though there was respectable 

between-subjects variability in stress scores, there may have been a restricted range in 

within-subjects stress scores over time. Reliability analyses across the seven waves of 

stress data revealed a high Cronbach's alpha (a = .81), suggesting that spouses may not 

have been experiencing much variability in their acute stress between assessments. A 

sample of spouses experiencing more variability in their stress over time may have 

revealed the expected curvilinear relationship. 

A second reason for the failure to find the predicted curvilinear association may 

be theoretical. We predicted that under low to moderate levels of external stress, not only 

would spouses retain the cognitive resources necessary to reorganize their specific 

perceptions, but also that spouses' cognitive organization actually may become more 

positive as stress increased from low to moderate. This prediction was based on research 

demonstrating that cognitive organization effects are strongest when the content of 

beliefs is somewhat negative (Showers et al., 1998). In other words, in order for spouses 

to structure their beliefs in a relationship-enhancing manner, they first must hold negative 

specific perceptions of the relationship. We suggested that under low stress, there would 

be little negativity in the relationship, resulting in weak cognitive organization effects. 

This perspective incorrectly assumes that external stress represents the only source of 



78 
negative specific relationship perceptions. However, many other factors, such as spouses' 

enduring vulnerabilities (e.g., neuroticism), may contribute to the experience of 

negativity in the relationship (Karney & Bradbury, 1995). Even spouses under low 

stress, then, may have negative relationship perceptions that must be integrated within a 

generally positive framework of relationship beliefs. Consequently, if negativity is 

already present in the relationship, spouses' cognitive organization would be unlikely to 

improve as their stress increased. Rather, increases in stress may simply interfere with 

spouses' ability to organize their perceptions in a relationship-enhancing manner. The 

linear relationship between stress and cognitive organization found in the current study 

supports this alternative conceptualization. 

In fact, though a curvilinear relationship was not found, the finding that 
responsibility attributions mediate the stress spillover effect is encouraging. Previous 
research has theorized that attributions may play an important role in the stress 
spillover/crossover process (Tesser & Beach, 1998; Thompson & Bolger, 1999). The 
current study provides the first empirical evidence suggesting that when individuals may 
attribute their negative relationship perceptions to an external source, such as the stressful 
situation, they may limit the association between stress and their overall relationship 
evaluation. However, high stress seemingly interferes with individuals' ability to 
maintain positive attributions for negative perceptions, and thus is associated with greater 
stress spillover. Consequently, the current results suggest that further research on this 
issue is warranted. 

For instance, future research may want to examine the association between stress 
and other cognitive organizational strategies that may be more central to the stress 
spillover process. Some research has argued that individuals vary in the complexity with 



79 
which they organize their specific relationship beliefs (Murray & Holmes, 1999; Showers 

& Kevlyn, 1999). In a compartmentalized organization, negative specific beliefs are 

lumped together and separated from positive specific beliefs. Thus, the activation of any 

one negative belief may lead to the activation of a flood of negative beliefs, possibly 

lowering judgments of satisfaction. Conversely, in a complex, integrative organization, 

negative specific beliefs are linked to positive specific beliefs. Accordingly, the 

activation of a negative belief will bring to mind other positive beliefs, and thus minimize 

the influence of the negative belief on judgments of satisfaction. This type of complex 

organization has been found to buffer individuals from the negative effects of stress 

(Showers & Kling, 1996). Future research may want to examine whether stress also may 

limit the complexity with which intimates organize their specific relationship beliefs, thus 

increasing the likelihood of stress spillover. 

A second limitation of the existing literature on stress and relationship quality is 

the failure to investigate whether the stress of each spouse may interact to influence 

individuals' relationship satisfaction. In other words, research on stress crossover has 

examined how spouses' stress may affect their partners' satisfaction without regard for 

the amount of stress partners may be experiencing themselves. Hypothesis 3 predicted 

that partners' own stress would moderate the stress crossover effect. This prediction was 

not supported as the current study failed to find evidence of a stress crossover effect. 

Namely, changes in wives' stress over the first years of marriage were not associated 

with changes in their husbands' satisfaction. Similarly, though initial evidence indicated 

a significant association between husbands' stress and wives' marital satisfaction, this 

association did not remain significant when controlling for the association between 

wives' own stress and their satisfaction. In other words, the stress crossover effect found 



80 
for wives was not independent of wives' stress spillover effect, indicating that the stress 

crossover effect simply may have resulted from the correlation between husbands' and 

wives' stress. 

There are two possible reasons why the current study failed to replicate the stress 
crossover effect. First, the finding that husbands' stress did not have an independent 
association with wives' satisfaction is not completely surprising given that evidence for 
stress spillover was not found for husbands. Theories of stress spillover and crossover 
suggest that individuals' stress should affect their own thoughts and behaviors. This 
change in individuals' own thoughts and behaviors should result in changes in the 
thoughts and behaviors of their partners. In other words, to affect the relationship 
partner, stress must first affect the individual. Consequently, given that husbands' stress 
was not found to affect their own relationship evaluations, it seems unlikely that 
husbands' stress would affect the relationship evaluations of their wives. Second, 
previous research on stress crossover has not examined the effects of stress crossover 
independent of stress spillover. Thus, the possibility remains that previous findings of 
stress crossover really are simply further evidence of stress spillover effects. Further 
research is necessary to determine whether stress crossover effects truly are independent 
of stress spillover effects. 

Finally, the existing literature on stress and relationship quality has failed to 
examine the long-term effects of stress on relationship satisfaction. Namely, this 
literature has failed to distinguish why for some couples, stress may be detrimental for 
the relationship, while for other couples stress may actually lead to enhanced relationship 
functioning. Hypothesis 4 suggested that spouses who successfully adapt to stress early in 
the relationship should exhibit resilience to future stressful experiences. Specifically, we 



81 
first predicted that spouses who maintained a positive organization of relationship 

perceptions in the face of external stress would be less vulnerable to declines in 

relationship satisfaction over time. Some evidence confirmed this prediction. Namely, 

husbands who adaptively coped with stress by maintaining less blaming attributions of 

their wives' behavioral transgressions (i.e., a more positive cognitive organization) also 

tended to maintain more stable satisfaction over time than did husbands who 

unsuccessfully coped with that stress. In addition, the size of this effect appeared to be 

larger under conditions of low stress than under conditions of high stress, suggesting that 

positive attributions may not be as effective in protecting relationship satisfaction when 

husbands are experiencing high levels of stress. 

Second, we predicted that spouses who maintained a positive cognitive 
organization in the face of external stress would be less vulnerable to future stress 
spillover. Again, some evidence confirmed this prediction. Wives who maintained a 
more positive cognitive organization in the face of low stress early in the relationship 
(i.e., tended not to see their partners as the cause of their negative behaviors) also 
experienced less stress spillover over time. Thus, coping well with low stress seemed to 
have a protective effect on future stress spillover. However, consistent with the previous 
finding, positive attributions seemed to have little effect on future stress spillover under 
conditions of high stress. Finally, we predicted that adaptive coping early in the 
relationship would serve to bolster spouses' ability to cope with stress encountered later 
in the relationship. No support was found for this prediction, as spouses' early coping 
was not found to be associated with their future coping. 

Overall, support for our hypotheses of stress resilience was modest at best. 
Results were not found consistently across spouses or across measures of cognitive 



82 
organization. Nevertheless, when significant results were found, the pattern of results was 

notably similar. In line with our theory, coping well with low stress (i.e., maintaining 

positive attributions) did seem to lead to future stress resilience. Moreover, consistent 

with the idea that high stress may overwhelm spouses' ability to prevent stress from 

affecting their relationship evaluations, maintaining positive attributions in the face of 

high stress did little to protect spouses from the adverse affects of stress. In other words, 

when faced with high external stress, spouses' cognitive organization simply didn't seem 

to matter as much. 

Given this consistent pattern of results, further research on stress resilience seems 
warranted. In particular, future research may want to examine alternative methods of 
coping with stress. The current study operationalized successful coping with stress as 
maintaining a positive cognitive organization. However, given that only modest support 
was found for an association between stress and cognitive organization, using cognitive 
organization as a proxy for coping may not have been the best method for examining 
issues of stress resilience. Rather, the manner in which spouses behave under conditions 
of stress may have an influence on future susceptibility to stress. Alternatively, future 
research may want to examine whether individuals who successfully prevent stress 
spillover early in the relationship are better able to prevent stress spillover over the course 
of the relationship. For instance, a longitudinal diary study examining the association 
between stress and satisfaction early in the relationship then again several years later may 
illuminate the advantages of successful coping. 

Strengths and Limitations of the Study 

Our confidence in the results of this study is enhanced by a number of strengths in 
its methodology and design. Foremost among these was the use of within-subjects 



83 
analyses to examine the associations between stress and relationship cognitions. Within- 

subjects analyses allowed for the estimation of the association between changes in stress 

and changes in relationship cognitions, controlling for spouses' stable tendencies to view 

their stress and their relationship in a particular manner. Namely, within-subjects 

analyses allowed us to control for potentially confounding between-subjects variables 

such as marital satisfaction, stress level, and general negative affectivity, enabling us to 

limit the possibility that the association between stress and relationship cognitions was 

the result of these variables. Second, when examining the role of cognitive content and 

cognitive organization in the stress spillover process, the HLM approach allowed for the 

estimation of the association between stress and cognitive organization, controlling for 

the influence of cognitive content, ensuring that these parameters were not confounded. 

Third, in contrast to prior research that has relied almost exclusively on short-term diary 

data, the current study used longitudinal data that allowed us to address whether stress 

and relationship cognitions are associated over the course of the first 3 V2 years of 

marriage. Fourth, also in contrast to much prior research that has addressed samples 

varying widely in marital duration, the analyses reported here examine data from a 

relatively homogeneous sample of couples, reducing the likelihood that the effects 

observed here result from uncontrolled differences in marital duration. Moreover, the use 

of a fairly homogeneous sample provided a more conservative test of our hypotheses. 

Despite these strengths, several factors nevertheless limit interpretations of the 

current findings. First, all of the data examined here were correlational. The current 

paper suggests that spouses' stress should lead to changes in their relationship 

evaluations. However, these data cannot rule out the alternative perspective that the 

nature of spouses' marriages may lead to changes in the amount of external stress they 



84 
experience. Nevertheless, this interpretation seems less likely for two reasons. First, all 

of the events listed on our measure of acute stress were chosen to represent stresses that 

are not likely to be a consequence of marital satisfaction. For instance, whereas being 

hospitalized or the death of a family member may affect spouses' satisfaction, the reverse 

is less likely to be true. Second, the majority of the events on the measure represent 

concrete, objective events. Thus, troubles in the marriage are unlikely to lead spouses to 

simply perceive more external stress in their lives. In other words, having a bad marriage 

is unlikely to lead spouses to perceive that they were fired from their job or that their 

application to school was rejected if these events did not actually occur. 

In line with this reasoning, a second limitation of the current study is the use of 

self-report measures of stress. The use of self-report measures opens up the possibility 

that third variables may be affecting spouses' views of the relationship as well as 

spouses' perceptions of stress. For instance, spouses high in neuroticism may exhibit a 

stable tendency to view their relationship and their stress more negatively, leading to a 

spurious association between these two variables. Again, the current data cannot rule out 

the possibility that a third variable, such as neuroticism, may account for the associations 

between stress and relationship cognitions. However, for reasons mentioned above, this 

interpretation seems less likely. As mentioned, the use of within-subjects analyses 

allowed us to partial out spouses' stable tendencies to view their stress and their 

relationship in a particular manner. Moreover, when measuring stress, the current study 

did not rely on spouses' subjective ratings of the negativity of the stressful event. Rather, 

the focus was on whether the spouse reported that the event had occurred. Again, as 

mentioned, given that the stress measure tended to tap concrete, objective events, it seems 

unlikely that being high in neuroticism would lead spouses to perceive more external 



85 
stressors if those events did not actually occur. Nevertheless, future research may want to 

examine issues of stress spillover and crossover using objective measures of stress, such 

as interviewer ratings of stress. The use of objective stress measures may help clarify the 

directional link between stress and relationship processes. 

Though also an important strength of the current research, a third limitation to the 
current study involves the use of a relatively homogeneous sample of satisfied couples. 
The current study was limited in the range of satisfaction and stress scores being 
reported. Thus, generalizations to other samples should be made with caution. For 
instance, research examining less satisfied couples may find different results that the ones 
reported here. The newlywed spouses in the current sample likely were motivated to 
maintain the positivity of their overall satisfaction. For couples that do not have the same 
motivation to perceive the relationship positively, stress may have an even stronger effect 
on relationship cognitions. However, the fact that stress was significantly associated with 
spouses' relationship cognitions even in this sample of uniformly happy couples serves to 
enhance our confidence in these findings. 

Finally, although our sample size compared favorably to other longitudinal 
studies of marriage, a larger sample size with additional waves of data would have 
provided greater power to detect additional effects not detected in the current study. For 
example, in a study with a larger sample size, the interactive effects of spouses' stress on 
relationship satisfaction may have been significant. In addition, a larger sample may 
have revealed further evidence of stress resilience. Nevertheless, the fact that several of 
our predictions were supported, despite the conservative nature of our tests, suggests the 
current findings are robust. 



86 
Marriage as a Safe Haven: The Successful Adaptation to Stress 

The current paper argues that stressful circumstances external to the marriage may 
have detrimental effects on cognitive processes within the marriage. Namely, spouses 
who are experiencing a lot of stress in their lives also tend to view their relationships in a 
negative light. Successfully adapting to stress, then, involves preventing that stress from 
negatively affecting judgments of the relationship, or preventing stress spillover. 
However, other theorists take a different perspective, arguing that stress may not always 
lead to negative relationship perceptions. Rather, a good marriage may provide a source 
of comfort when external circumstances are difficult (Brunstein, Dangelmayer, & 
Schultheiss, 1996; Coyne & DeLongis, 1986). When faced with a number of stressors, 
spouses may contrast their marriage against their stressful external circumstances, leading 
them to view their relationships more positively than ever (cf. Bless & Schwartz, 1998). 
For instance, a man experiencing stress at work may begin to more fully appreciate the 
warmth and stability of his marriage. In other words, his marriage may come to represent 
a "safe haven" from the turmoil and stress he encounters at the office. Thus, in contrast to 
the stress spillover perspective, which predicts a negative association between stress and 
marital satisfaction, the safe haven perspective argues that as external stress increases, 
satisfaction with the marriage may also increase. 

Though these two perspectives appear contradictory, the model estimated in the 
current study could in fact address each of these stress effects. Results indicated that, on 
average, spouses' stress seemed to spillover into their marriage, as increases in stress 
were associated with decreases in marital satisfaction. In the current study, significant 
variability in the strength of this association was not found. However, in a larger study, 
results may indicate that though stress has negative effects on average, for some, stress 



87 
may have a positive association with marital satisfaction. If this is the case, future 

research may want to examine sources of between-subjects variance for the within- 

subjects association between stress and marital satisfaction. In other words, what 

distinguishes those experiencing stress spillover from those for whom the marriage serves 

as a safe haven from stressful experiences? 

One promising answer to this question may be the overall quality of spouses' 
lives. Spouses who enjoy an overall positive quality of life tend to be less affected by 
external acute stressors than spouses who are faced with a number of chronic life 
stressors, such as living in poverty or coping with a long-term illness (Caspi et al., 1987). 
Perhaps spouses with low chronic stress not only experience less stress spillover, but also 
are able to rely on the marriage as a safe haven from the experience of acute stress. A 
second answer to this question may be spouses' trait cognitive complexity. Individuals 
who define themselves using a greater number of independent self-aspects tend to be less 
affected by negativity in any one domain than individuals with less complex views of the 
self (Linville, 1987). In other words, when spouses hold a greater number of 
differentiated self-aspects, stress in one domain, such as work, tends to be less likely to 
spill over to affect thoughts and feelings of a different domain, such as the marriage. 
Again, future research may want to examine whether this type of self-complexity not 
only limits stress spillover effects, but also allows individuals to compensate for the stress 
felt in one domain by focusing on other positive self-domains. 

Two Routes to Change in Satisfaction: Expanding the Model 

The hypotheses of the current paper were based on the idea that there may be two 
general routes to declines in satisfaction. The first route involves a change in intimates' 
cognitive content, while the second route involves a change in intimates' cognitive 



88 
structure. Throughout this paper, these two routes were discussed as if they were parallel 

processes. However, future research may want to question this assumption. For instance, 

there may be a temporal order of the effects of stress on cognitive content and cognitive 

organization. If evidence of a curvilinear relationship between stress and cognitive 

organization is found, this could suggest that stress may first affect cognitive content, 

then affect cognitive structure. Namely, as stress increased from low to moderate, stress 

would affect spouses' specific perceptions, yet not interfere with the organization of 

those perceptions. However, as stress continued to increase from moderate to high, stress 

would then also begin to affect spouses' organizational abilities. However, if further 

research corroborates that the relationship between stress and organization is linear, this 

may indicate that the effects of stress on content and on organization are simultaneous. 

Similarly, expanding the model even further, there may be a temporal order to the 

types of cognitive organizational strategies spouses use for coping with negative 

relationship perceptions (e.g., Robin & Beer, 2001). For instance, when faced with a 

negative specific perception of a relationship partner, spouses may first attempt to cope 

with that perception though the use of relationship-enhancing attributions. Viewing the 

partner as not responsible for a behavioral transgression allows the spouses to separate 

that negative perception from an overall relationship evaluation, thereby maintaining a 

positive view of the relationship. This strategy, however, may only be effective when 

coping with isolated, negative events. Attributions are unlikely to be successful in coping 

with particularly salient or pervasive negative relationship perceptions that are 

encountered repeatedly over time. In this case, spouses may need to move to a different 

coping strategy, such as the use of differential importance. Namely, once it is no longer 

feasible for a spouse to deny the responsibility of the partner for the negative behavior, 



89 
spouses may choose to limit the negativity of the perception by dismissing the 

importance of the negative act. Thus, our understanding of marital stability may benefit 

from further investigation of both when and how various cognitive strategies may 

successfully protect marital satisfaction from the implications of specific negative beliefs. 

Additional Directions for Future Research 

The current study examined two intervening variables in the stress spillover 

process, spouses' cognitive content and spouses' cognitive organization. These particular 

variables were chosen because most factors that shape the development of a relationship 

exert their influence on future relationship outcomes through their effects on how 

individuals think about the relationship (Karney, McNulty, & Frye, 2001). However, a 

variety of other possible intervening variables were not explored in this study. For 

instance, prior research has established links between stress and negative mood (Bolger, 

DeLongis, Kessler, & Schilling, 1989) and between stress and negative behaviors 

(Bolger, DeLongis, Kessler, & Wethington, 1989; Repetti & Wood, 1997). Future 

research is needed to piece together the large literature on stress and to untangle the 

causal chains linking each of the potential intervening variables of the stress spillover 

process. For example, one possibility is that stress may first lead to negative mood, 

which results in changes in behaviors. These changes in behaviors may then lead to 

changes in spouses' specific relationship cognitions, which in turn affect spouses' global 

relationship evaluations. Most likely, however, a number of reciprocal relationships may 

exist between these variables. Overall, then additional research is necessary to construct 

a more complete picture of the intervening variables underlying the stress spillover 

process. 



90 
Our understanding of the stress spillover process may also benefit from 

alternative measurements of spouses' exposure to stressors. The current study examined 
a composite of spouses' stress across a variety of life domains, such as work, health, and 
family. Future research may want to consider whether stress spillover may be moderated 
by the type of stress experienced. For instance, stress experienced within domains 
considered personally important to the individual may have a larger influence on 
relationship evaluations than stress in unimportant domains. Thus, if work is more 
important to an individual than relationships with extended family members, stress at 
work should be more taxing to the individuals than a stressful family situation. 
Consequently, a stressful work situation may have a larger impact on the individual's 
mood, behavior, and relationship cognitions than a stressful family situation. Future 
research, then, may want to compare whether the same amount of stress encountered in 
important versus unimportant domains may have different effects on relationship 
evaluations. 

Conclusions 
Historically, research on relationship maintenance and deterioration has focused 

on the effects of intrapersonal factors, such as individuals' personality traits or 
relationship cognitions, on relationship outcomes. What this perspective overlooks, 
however, is that the environmental context of the relationship can interact with these 
intrapersonal factors to affect relationship quality and stability. The current study draws 
attention to the importance of contextual influences for relationship functioning. In 
particular, these data complement a growing area of research arguing that spouses' 
external stressful circumstances can have a detrimental effect on cognitive processes 
within the relationship. To have a complete understanding of relationship outcomes, 



91 
then, researchers and therapists must move beyond the question of how processes within 

the relationship affect relationship quality to the question of how the factors internal and 

external to the relationship interact to influence a broad range of close relationship 

phenomena. 



APPENDIX A 
SEMANTIC DIFFERENTIAL MEASURE OF MARITAL SATISFACTION 

For each of the following items, fill in the circle (O) that best describes HOW YOU 
FEEL ABOUT YOUR MARRIAGE. Base your responses on your first impressions and 
immediate feelings about the item. 



INTERESTING 


O 


o 


o 


o 


o 


o 


o 


BORING 


BAD 


o 


o 


o 


o 


o 


o 


o 


GOOD 


UNPLEASANT 


o 


o 


o 


o 


o 


o 


o 


PLEASANT 


FULL 


o 


o 


o 


o 


o 


o 


o 


EMPTY 


WEAK 


o 


o 


O 


O 


O 


o 


o 


STRONG 


SATISFIED 


o 


o 


o 


o 


o 


o 


O 


DISSATISFIED 


LONELY 


o 


o 


o 


o 


o 


o 


o 


FRIENDLY 


STURDY 


o 


o 


o 


o 


o 


o 


o 


FRAGILE 


REWARDING 


o 


o 


O 


O 


O 


o 


o 


DISAPPOINTING 


DISCOURAGING 


o 


o 


o 


o 


o 


o 


o 


HOPEFUL 


ENJOYABLE 


o 


o 


o 


o 


o 


o 


o 


MISERABLE 


TENSE 


o 


o 


o 


o 


o 


o 


o 


RELAXED 


STABLE 


o 


o 


O 


O 


o 


O 


o 


UNSTABLE 


HAPPY 


o 


o 


o 


o 


o 


o 


o 


SAD 


STRESSFUL 


o 


o 


o 


o 


O 


o 


o 


PEACEFUL 



92 



APPENDIX B 
INVENTORY OF SPECIFIC MARITAL PROBLEMS 

All couples experience some difficulties or differences of opinion in their marriage, even 
if they are only very minor ones. Listed below are a number of issues that might be 
difficulties in your marriage. For each issue fill in a bubble to indicate how much it is a 
source of difficulty or disagreement for you and your spouse. 



Not a 
Problem 
1 2 



3 4 



7 8 9 



Major 
Problem 
10 11 



Children 

Religion 

In-laws, parents, relatives 

Recreation and leisure time 

Communication 
Household management 
Showing Affection 
Making decisions 

Friends 

Unrealistic expectations 

Money management 

Sex 

Jealousy 

Solving problems 
Trust 
Independence 

Drugs and alcohol 

Career decisions 

Amount of time spent together 



ooooooooooo 

OOOOOOOOOOO 

ooooooooooo 
ooooooooooo 

ooooooooooo 
ooooooooooo 
ooooooooooo 
ooooooooooo 

ooooooooooo 
ooooooooooo 
ooooooooooo 
ooooooooooo 

ooooooooooo 
ooooooooooo 
ooooooooooo 
ooooooooooo 

ooooooooooo 
ooooooooooo 
ooooooooooo 



93 



APPENDIX C 
INVENTORY OF SPECIFIC RELATIONSHIP STANDARDS 



95 



o 

i-_ 

o 

0) 

.55 

O 

Q_ 

CL 
(D 

0) 

JZ 



O) 

c 

X2 

CO~ 

C 
<D 

E 
d) 

■—• 
co 

O) 

c 

1 



XI 



C 

a 

CO 

© 

CO 
CD 
0) 



2 & 

O -Si 



x: 
o 



uo 



TJ C 


u_ 




1° 


CD 




> 


^ 


; a) 






■Si *- 
0) CD 




CO 


(0 > 

Q. > 






■D .ti 


"CD 


CM 


S* 5 


-4-- 




O 0) 


03 

■4— 

O 





T3 (D 

S E 

to O) 
CO 



CO 

(1) 

>■ 



O 

o 
o 
o 
o 



o 
o 



CD S. 
CD "O 

s| 

CD O 

E 3 

CD o 
CO w 

® o 

£ CD 
CD | 
| = 



5 

D 
O 

x: 

CO 



<D CD 

* CD 
CO c 
CD CD 

S & $ 

£ -!=; "CD 

if > 

to -Q o 

Q. CD -ii 



o 

O 
O 
O 

o 



o 
o 



3 

o 

CD 



C 
CD 

CO 



3 .2 
S?x: to 

_ © i- 

(D > CD 

3 *- x: 
o" <o -~ 

CD O -^ 
CD °-0 

> c x> 

CD eg CD 

t CD 
CD > 
O CD 

XT 



O 



CO 



C 



CO 
CO a, 



o 
to 






CD CD 





C 

■c 

CD -^ 



CN 



CO 
O) 

c c 

CD = 

- CD 

CD 



O 

o 
o 
o 
o 



o 
o 



CD 

o 
^x: 

1? S 
TO k 

CD o 

•IS 

E cd 

■5 £ 

t CD 

O 

■^ (D 

O O 

« 2. 
?€. 

T3 co 

o K 
* g 





CO 



o 
o 
o 
o 
o 



o 
o 



CO 

c 



CD 
> 

CD 

x: 

<D 

CD 

C 

o 

E 

CD 

X 

CD 

T3 
C 
CD 
Q. 
CO 



CO 2 

D 
O 

x: 

CO 
CD 



O 
O 
O 
O 

o 



o 
o 



CD 

!I 

CD © 

E E 

CD ■— 
CO (J) 

« 3 

£ CO 

CD J» 
> . 

-C o 

2 -D 
=J C 
O <D 

x: cl 

CO CO 

— o 

li 

(D O 

i_ x: 
CD ^ 

C =5 

■c o 

CD -Q 
Q. CD 

2 

id 



O 
o 
o 
o 
o 



o 
o 



CD 

O D) 
XJ O 

CO ** 

>>-P, 
CD » 

W CD 

"CD ^ 
3 CO 
O" CD 

CD ~ 

0) "> 

r- TO 



2 
O 

x: 

CO 

T3 

C 
CD 

i_ 
CD 

C 

■c 

CD 



CD 

«_ 

CD 



O 
CO 
"O 

c 

"CD 

x: 

Q. £ 

>» 



(D 



96 



Z3 c^ 



3 


-t— • 

o 


o 


c 


£ 


0) 


*-^ 


i_ 


CD 


CD 


CO 


£ 


3 


^ 


£ 


Jfc; 


O 





X 


-Q 



o 

3 



CD 
> 



CD 
CO 

o 



If) 

CO 

CM 



o 
o 
o 
o 
o 



o 
o 
o 
o 
o 



o 
o 
o 
o 
o 



o 
o 
o 
o 
o 



o 
o 
o 
o 
o 



CD £ 
"D CD 

to o> 

CO 



CO 

CD 



3 



o 
o 



o 
o 



o 
o 



o 
o 



o 
o 



o 

*= « 

CD a 

1 9 

13 O) 

to to to 

D) .C CD 

to g-4= 
"3 © » 

^CD ® 

III 

CO — I- 

3&3 

o c ~ 



o 

CD 
LLi 



CD £ 



co CD 

1 5 

CD O 

32 -o 

"gJS 
I 5 

CO D 

£ to 

2 to 

II 

tO d) 

— .c 

ll 

CD 6 

i- SZ 

CD *_ 

C D 

■c O 

CD jQ 
Q. CD 



CO 

+-» 

sz 

+± O) 

CD ■*- 
>, tD 
CD > 

w t; 
CD 

3 CD 
cr c 
CD c 

CD CD 
> tf 

^ o 
~o to 
3 to 

I 3 

w .to 

— TJ 

TJ 

C 
CD 



CX) 



CD 

c 

CD 

Q. 

CD 



CD 

CD 

-C 

CD 

SZ 



3 
O 

D 
O 
_Q 
CD 

CD 

> 
CD 

SZ 

CD 

CD 

-C 
*-» 

to ri 

C SZ 
— CO 
CD C 

£ .9 

TJ "CD 

£ "CD 
CD 2. 



CD CO 

SZ D) 

*• c 



c 

o 
■o 



CD 

> 



CD 
CD 



CO 

o 

Q. 

CO 
CO 

Z3 

o 

CD CO 

> o 

Q. * - 
O CO 

to C 

ll 

8 5 

x: o 

CO CO 



CO 


CD 


D 


Q. 


»♦- 


i_ 


O 





SZ 


.c 


o 

CD 


o 



LU 



C 
CD 



E o * 



13 

t O > 

if? 

8 fco 



C © 



CD 



CD O) * 

CD 2 — 

CD D) £ 

O C © 

° O) >, 

o si E 

c uj 

to CD M_ 

— 53 Vf 

D O © 

o x: cz 

£ o C 

to CD CD 

<D CD Q. 



97 



2^- 

£.0 



x: 
o 

13 



m 



x> c 






11 


a 




> 


•*- 


* i 






*-" I— 
CD d) 




CO 


CO > 

Q. > 






d .t; 


"a 


CM 


£*= 










O 

X -a 


o 





o 
o 
o 
o 
o 



o 
o 
o 
o 
o 



o 
o 
o 
o 
o 



o 
o 
o 
o 
o 



1— 
03 
"O 


o 

(1) 


L. 


E 




a> 




r 


</) 




x: 


x> 



w 



CO 

>- 



O 
O 



O 

o 



o 
o 



o 
o 



CO 
















a> 




•«-» 

3 








x: 


1_ 
CD 

X! 






o 

XI 






CL 


o 

CO 
CD 


o 


cr 




CO 




o 


x: 


x: 


E 

CO 
CO 




>. 

CO 
CO 

"ca 


c 
o 


E 
c 


CO 

c 
o 

CO 


c 

CO 
CD 


o 

%t- CO 
O CD 

co 5 


CD 




cr 

CD 


CD 

c 


>4— 

XJ 

c 


CD 


CD 
C 


:& ° 
> XI 

CO co 


TO 




CD 

> 

CO 


o 

E 


CO 
CD 


3 
O 


o 

.c 


CO CD 
* CO 

»« o 


> 
XJ 




x: 

XJ 


o 

XJ 

c 

CD 

CL 


CO 
CD 


>> 


CO 
XJ 


CO w 

CD 

i £ 


=J 




D 


^~ 


g 


D 


> ^ 


O 




o 

x: 


13 
O 


Q. 


o 

x: 


•S CO 


(/> 




CO 




CO 


CO ~ 


TJ 

C 




XJ 

c 


CD 



CO 


x: 
x: 


XJ 

c 


<D O) 
=5 = 


CO 


XJ 


ca 


CO 


E 


CO 


CO 


CO to 
.t 
— CO 
CO c 

-«_ o 

1 E 

£ 

O XJ 


1— 
CD 


c 

CD 


CD 


OJ 

c 


XJ 


1— 
CD 


CD 


c 

CO 

a. 


^— 
CO 

c 


C 

CO 
Q. 


x: 

CD 

X! 


o 

(0 

CD 



o 


c 

CO 

CL 



CN 



oo 



m 



APPENDIX D 
RELATIONSHIP ATTRIBUTIONS MEASURE 

This questionnaire describes several things that your spouse might do. Imagine your 
spouse performing each behavior and then bubble in the number that indicates how much 
you agree or disagree with each statement, using the following scale: 

12 3 4 5 6 7 

disagree disagree disagree neutral agree agree agree 

strongly somewhat somewhat strongly 

YOUR SPOUSE CRITICIZES SOMETHING YOU SAY: 

12 3 4 5 6 7 

My spouse's behavior was due to something about him/her 

(e.g., the type of person he/she is, his/her mood) OOOOOOO 

My spouse's behavior was due to something about me 

(e.g., the type of person I am, the mood I was in) OOOOOOO 

The reason my spouse criticized me is not likely to change OOOOOOO 

The reason my spouse criticized me is something that 

affects other areas of our marriage OOOOOOO 

My spouse criticized me on purpose rather 

than unintentionally OOOOOOO 

My spouse's behavior was motivated by selfish 

rather than unselfish concerns OOOOOOO 

My spouse deserves to be blamed for criticizing me OOOOOOO 

YOUR SPOUSE BEGINS TO SPEND LESS TIME WITH YOU: 

12 3 4 5 6 7 

My spouse's behavior was due to something about him/her 

(e.g., the type of person he/she is, his/her mood) OOOOOOO 

My spouse's behavior was due to something about me 

(e.g., the type of person I am, the mood I was in) OOOOOOO 

The reason my spouse spent less time with me is not 

likely to change OOOOOOO 

The reason my spouse spent less time with me is something that 

affects other areas of our marriage OOOOOOO 

My spouse spent less time with me on purpose rather 

than unintentionally OOOOOOO 

My spouse's behavior was motivated by selfish 

rather than unselfish concerns OOOOOOO 

My spouse deserves to be blamed for spending less time with me. ... OOOOOOO 

98 



99 



1 


2 


3 


4 


5 


6 


7 


disagree 


disagree 


disagree 


neutral 


agree 


agree 


agree 


strongly 




somewhat 




somewhat 




strongly 



YOUR SPOUSE DOES NOT PAY ATTENTION 
TO WHAT YOU ARE SAYING: 

12 3 4 5 6 7 

My spouse's behavior was due to something about him/her 

(e.g., the type of person he/she is, his/her mood) OOOOOOO 

My spouse's behavior was due to something about me 

(e.g., the type of person I am, the mood I was in) OOOOOOO 

The reason my spouse did not pay attention to what I was saying 

is not likely to change OOOOOOO 

The reason my spouse did not pay attention to what I was saying is 

something that affects other areas of our marriage OOOOOOO 

My spouse did not pay attention to what I was saying on purpose 

rather than unintentionally OOOOOOO 

My spouse's behavior was motivated by selfish 

rather than unselfish concerns OOOOOOO 

My spouse deserves to be blamed for not paying attention to me ... . OOOOOOO 



YOUR SPOUSE IS COOL AND DISTANT: 12 3 4 5 6 7 

My spouse's behavior was due to something about him/her 

(e.g., the type of person he/she is, his/her mood) OOOOOOO 

My spouse's behavior was due to something about me 

(e.g., the type of person I am, the mood I was in) OOOOOOO 

The reason my spouse was cool and distant with me is not 

likely to change OOOOOOO 

The reason my spouse was cool and distant with me is something 

that affects other areas of our marriage OOOOOOO 

My spouse was cool and distant with me on purpose rather 

than unintentionally OOOOOOO 

My spouse's behavior was motivated by selfish 

rather than unselfish concerns OOOOOOO 

My spouse deserves to be blamed for being cool and distant with me. . OOOOOOO 



APPENDIX F 
SURVEY OF LIFE EVENTS 












101 



US 

I 


c 
o 




2 

(0 


I 

i- 


CO 

+ 


h- 


-*— 1 






3 




z 


o 

CO 




CD 
CO 

ro 


O 

5* 


+ 


«"£ 




a> 


c 
o 




tn — 




a 




3 CD 
O > 




■a 


*•> 

c 

CD 
> 
CD 

CD 

-C 
+■> 

O 


+ 


t your sp 

ery negat 




a) 

c 

<D 

a 
a 
ro 


o 

T - 


2> 




*-> 


*-< 




c — » 




c 


u 




=> 1 




CD 

> 


(0 

a 


Cjl 


toYO 

efrom 




CD 


| 

CD 

*-< 


to 

■ 


pened 
a seal 






o 




« o 






c 

CD 

a 


o 


*■' -tf 






Q 


z 


c c 






ro 




CD CD 

> > 

CD CD 






sz 


<0 
CD 

>- 


CD CD 






"O 


.C -C 






b 




♦- -^ 








*- «»- 










o o 










c *- 










>- 2 










o 8 










" 9- 










cd E 










.c — 




















£ <D 










cate 
erat 


CD 




















O 








>, 








CD Q. 
(0 - 
CO C 


c 
o 








ts, pie 
happe 


o 

CO 
Q. 

E 








c 










(J) T3 


CD 








St ^ 


> 








■ ~ 


'-*-* 








D) M _ 


tn 








c= — 


O 








Ilowi 
HS 


a 

CD 








*c 


> 








£§ 


CO 








:§ 


+ 








°x 


o 








-C :s 










o </) 


s$ 








orea< 
AST 


>^ 








o 








LL Q. 


> 









<0 

c 
o 



o o o 

o o o 

o o o 

o o o 

o o o 

o o o 

o o o 



o o o 
o o o 



CD 



o 

i 

o 

CD 

3 

■a 

CD 
10 

3 

o 

a 
tn 

E 

o 



_ • Z 

O CO • 
B 'c £ 
CO t 3 

ill 

(O 2 Q 



CD 



C 
CD 
CD 

■2 

I 

i 
I 



oooooooooo 



oooooooooo 



oooooooooo 



oooooooooo 



oooooooooo 



oooooooooo 



oooooooooo 



oooooooooo 



oooooooooo 



1— 

o 

CO 
(/> 

CD 



-O 

o 



li 

c * 
o »t 

Q- O 
<n w 
CD "O 

c * 



*i CD 

C i_ 

o o 
E E 

si 

? o 

(A E 

2. ro 

o o 



TJ T3 
CD CD 

>» >. 
o o 



a> o a a-S -2 ^ 

c ^ c c - 

CO CD CD fl> £ 5 5 

^r .h c c cd S 2 

O U. => 3 Z h- \- 



J S2 

CD CD 

E o 

CD O 

3 3 

2 2 



3 

o 
u 
o 

o 

c 



3 

o 

c 
o 

'■5 

o 

E 
p 



CD 

o 

; 1 

o a 

$ X 

_- C4> 

CO j-. 

CD O CD 

•^-' •«« *rf 

111 

2 o ® 
a. il a 



102 



0) 




rate 
rlif 


+ 


7 3 




<d o 


+ 


CD c 




a° 




+-■ 


^™ 


ened, 
even 


+ 
o 


Q. 0) 








* o 


V 


le event 
impact 


CM 

■ 



t; a) co 



ooooooooooo 



ooooooooooo 



ooooooooooo 



ooooooooooo 



ooooooooooo 



ooooooooooo 



ooooooooooo 



o o o o o o o 



o o o o o o o 



o o o o o o o 



o o o o o o o 



o o o o o o o 



o o o o o o o 



o o o o o o o 



o 




c 




0) 




Q 





Q 




CO 




SL 


to 


*-> 


<d 


■D 


>■ 


Q 





OOOOOOOOOOO 



ooooooooooo 



o o o o o o o 



o o o o o o o 



3 

I 

0) 
0) 



e 

o 
o 

■c 

o 
to 



T3 
0) 

Q. 

CD 

o 
o 

CD 

o 
o 

.c 
o 

CO 



c 
o 

CD 

o 
a. 

< 



"O CD 

® a> 

ill 

o c 

If 

2 o 
.2-5 

8 "a 

aiS 

< CO 



E 

CO 

1_ 

CO 

o 

Q. 
CO 

c 
'c 

CO 



0) 
c co 

9 £ 
<o o 

co </> 
a> co 
E g> 

o _ 

11 

"5 5 
co g 
o c 

CO H- 



u> o 

o o 

Q o 

o w 

CO T3 

■D £ 

CD CD 

|f 

CD E 

-C o 

o o 



4- H- 

o o 

o o 

u u 

CO CO 

o o 

<-« ** 

3 3 

o o 

TJ T3 

CO o 

a a 

a a 

o o 

Q Q 



O 

o i 

£ > 



P CD O 



CD 
O 

i 

i_ 
O 

c 



o 

3 
i_ 
*-» 
CO 

c 



CD Q) 

i $ 

«J CD 



£ £ 



- £ o> co 

& * 

C W 

.c ** 
o 



« 3 > > 
S Q 



O .5* 

— jz 

0) CD 

£ > 

CD CD 

O U 

0) CD 

a: a: 



o 
o 

CD ©* 

Ec 

o 2 

o 
o 
o 



CD 



(0 

(0 

o ® 



52£ 

o tr 
* 5 

o 



CO 

3 



CD 
CO 
CD 
O) 

CO -£± 

1 ° 



CO 



-* ■¥ 



c 

CO 

o 

I_ CO 

O) — 

2.3= 
o> o 

£ °> 

O C 

E 1? 

*- CD 

3 Q- 

O T3 
CD 



C 
CD 

E 

c 
i_ 

CD 

> 
O 



c 

CD 
E 

c 

i_ 
CD 

> 



<D 



.S O 



o o 



CO 



o 

I- CO 



CO O 

a 

CD 

if 

P E 

CO m— o 

c a> a 

aj -C — 

S" CO .C 

1-1 c .2 

O c r 

O "- (B 

CD CD C 

Q. > i£ 

>< CD *- 

CD O (0 

C CD O 

3 a: _i 



103 



6 

si 2 



+ 
O 



s ■ 

r o 



fc o 

o> CO 

> o <X 

0) | • 

o .E 

£ <U CO 



oooooooooo 



oooooooooo 



oooooooooo 



oooooooooo 



oooooooooo 



oooooooooo 



oooooooooo 



oooooooooo 



oooooooooo 



oooooooooo 



oooooooooo 



oooooooooo 



oooooooooo 



oooooooooo 



0) 

a 

Q 
(S 



1 



oooooooooo 



oooooooooo 



oooooooooo 



oooooooooo 



(0 



in 

"O (0 

c -a 

0) c 



I* 

* .re 



5 1 

(0 > 

I s 

4-1 +-> 

(0 c 

"55 o 

il u 

c c 



!1 

CO > 

I s 

re c 

"55 o 

c c 



0) Q) 

O) O) 

c c 

re re 

u u 

o o 

"re* "re* 



a> a> 

O) O) 

c c 
re re 



o o ■ 



re 

i 

il 

O g 

a o 
c | 

| o? 

> tj a> 

0) A> c 

'■5 2 o> 
re oj in 

0)0.0 

»- a> o 

* w " 
(0 o 



o o 
re* "(5' 



6 <D *± 

a> 2: re 

•c re o 

u. a. Q 



E 
E 



E 
re 



c 

I C £ 

p i- re 

Mi 

C fl) ■- 

— ' " — 

re 2 tf> 

"- — i 



c £ .C 



^_ TJ .2 

i a) ~ 

h 3 

re ct jt- 

a a: a 



re 

5 



re 
a> 



re 
o 

'55 



c 
o 

1 

re 



U 

= o 

— c 

— 10 
CO (0 fl) 

w >% c 

0) sz — 

c a = 



o_ & a. — 



C 

S 8 

H re 



a> 
o> 
c 
re 



o 

're 



— 5 re 

ro c •£ 

in * £ 

£0>q. 

i_ >- 3 

O 3 O 

C O 'C 

.= fl> A) 

2 a: <o 



o ^ 

3 C 

M 

~ fl) 



il 

o g> 

9 3 
0£ (0 

>» o 

O) 

o 2 

Z 1 

.«2 o 
> x 



© 
to 

3 

.Q 

re 

a> 

^ o 

fl) 4-> 

O) "J 

3 3 
• <» 

S w 

re IE 

.-~ 3 
a o 

Si 

X Q 



104 



<D 




© £ 




*•> — 




2 i= 


m 


~ 3 


+ 


2 o 




S2 >» 




1 - 


«s 


o> c 


+ 


o.° 




+- 




aened, 
e even 


+ 
O 



* o 

<u .E 



I 



f) 



oooooooo 



oooooooo 



oooooooo 



oooooooo 



oooooooo 



oooooooo 



oooooooo 



o o o o 

o o o o 

o o o o 

o o o o 

o o o o 

o o o o 

o o o o 



o- 




c 




© 




a 


o 


Q 


fc 


ra 




.c 


en 


-^ 


V 
> 


T3 








Q 





OOOOOOOO 



oooooooo 



o o o o 
o o o o 



c 
.o 

ra 

I 

o 
.c 

-J 
c 
© 

i 

o 

3: 



0) 

E 
o 



c 
rj 

E 

E 

O CD 



a> a) 



c 
o 

c 



T3 TJ 
<D <D 



> 
o 



E 
o 

_c 

"D 
jD 

CD 
"D 
O 

E 

CD 



© 

E 
o 



CD 



CO 
(0 
V) 

H5 
15 



B o 

ill 

o E « 



c 

(O » _ 

> © .t; 
■■= £ 5 



ra 

c 



f 
■o 

E E 
o o 

*5 



-^ o 

0) -i- , 
c p *- 

™-£ 2 

era — 
> © E 



tn o — 



^ :e £ zj oi 5 



8 8 

i o 

0>"0 

10 © 

E g 

ra o 

a U. 



55, 
O 
© 



c 
o 

o 
ra 

75 

O) 

© 



3 © 

11 

ra o 
m ra 



<= o 

— _ : c 

"O 5 "O o 

0J CD 0) ■- 

> § » = 

o o £ 2 

= < < a 



ra 



105 



<D H- 




** ~ 




h 


<*> 

+ 


2 o 




m" * 


c* 


S c 


+ 


Q.O 








ened, 
even 


+ 
© 


a a> 




hap 
ofth 


1 


the event 
le impact 


«s 


1 
I 






o o o o o o 

o o o o o o 

o o o o o o 

o o o o o o 

o o o o o o 

o o o o o o 

o o o o o o 



i 

a 2 
a Z 
re 

as >- 

■o 

5 



o o o o o o 
o o o o o o 



c 
o 

5! 













v) 












O) 












c 
























o> 












c 












o 
























2 












MM 




tf 








ra 




a 








c 




t 


CO 




o 




2 


,.g> 




J2 




'E 


~ a 




0> 






c 


activ 
utun 




a 
*-■ 
c 






»™«*- 




ra 




c 

09 


3 S 

8 1 


> 


o 








> 

4-1 


, a 

E 


E 


u 
ra 


c c 


E 

E 
o 
o 


i 


o 
re 


ra 

c 


ange i 
cision 


CD 
O) 

ra 

E 


o 


^ 


.C <D 


c 


ra 


E 


o 


O "O 


■■ 


^ 


> 


i_ i_ 


V) 




O 


o 

> 


o o 
aTco 




(0 

o 


> 


c 


^ 


2 


o 


_i 



REFERENCES 

Bahr, S. J. (1979). The effects of welfare on marital stability and remarriage. Journal of 
Marriage and the Family, 41, 553-560. 

Baron, R M, & Kenny, D. A. (1986). The moderator-mediator variable distinction in 

social psychological research: Conceptual, strategic, and statistical considerations. 
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 1 1 73-1 1 82. 

Baucom, D. H, Esptein, N., Rankin, L. A., & Burnett, C. K. (1996). Assessing 

relationship standards: The inventory of specific relationship standards. Journal of 
Family Psychology, 10, 72-88. 

Bless, H., & Schwarz, N. (1998). Context effects in political judgment: Assimilation and 
contrast as a function of categorization processes. European Journal of Social 
Psychology, 28, 159-172. 

Bodenmann, G. (1997). The influence of stress and coping on close relationships: A two 
year-longitudinal study. Swiss Journal of Psychology, 56, 156-164. 

Bolger, N, DeLongis, A., Kessler, R. C, & Schilling, E. A. (1989). Effects of daily 

stress on negative mood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 808- 
818. 

Bolger, N., DeLongis, A, Kessler, R. C, & Wethington, E. (1989). The contagion of 
stress across multiple roles. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 51, 175-183. 

Bradbury, T. N. (1998). The developmental course of marital dysfunction. New York: 
Cambridge University Press. 

Bradbury, T. N, Cohan, C. L., & Karney, B. R. (1998). Optimizing longitudinal research 
for understanding and preventing marital dysfunction. In T. N. Bradbury (Ed), 
The Developmental Course of Marital Dysfunction (pp. 279-3 1 1 ). New York: 
Cambridge University Press. 

Bradbury, T. N. & Fincham, F. D. (1991). A contextual model for advancing the study of 
marital interaction. In G. J. O. Fletcher & F. D. Fincham (Eds), Cognition in 
close relationships (vy. 127 '-147). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. 



106 









107 

Bradbury, T. N. & Fincham, F. D. (1991). A contextual model for advancing the study of 
marital interaction. In G. J. O. Fletcher & F. D. Fincham (Eds), Cognition in 
close relationships (pp. 127-147). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. 

Brunstein, J. C, Dangelmayer, G, & Schultheiss, O. C. (1996). Personal goals and social 
support in close relationships: Effects on relationship mood and marital 
satisfaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 1006-1019. 

Bryk, A. S., & Raudenbush, S. W. (1992). Hierarchical linear models: Applications and 
data analysis methods. Newbury Park: Sage. 

Bryk, A. S., Raudenbush, S. W., & Congdon, R. T. (1994). HIM: Hierarchical linear 

modelling with the HLM/2L and HIM/ 5L programs. Chicago: Scientific Software 
International. 

Bumpass, L. L. (1990). What's happening to the family? Interactions between 
demographic and institutional change. Demography, 27, 483-498. 

Caspi, A., Bolger, N, & Eckenrode, J. (1987). Linking person and context in the daily 
stress process. Journal oj Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 184-195. 

Cherlin, A. J. (1992). Marriage, divorce, remarriage (2nd ed). Cambridge, MA: Harvard 
University Press. 

Cohen, S., Kessler, R C, & Gordon, L. (1997). Strategies for measuring stress in studies 
of psychiatric and physical disorders. In S. Cohen, R. C. Kessler, & L. U. Gordon 
(Eds), Measuring stress: A guide for health and social scientists, (pp. 3-26): New 
York, NY: Oxford University Press. 

Coyne, J. C, & DeLongis, A (1986). Going beyond social support: The role of social 
relationships in adaptation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 
454-460. 

Crouter, A. C, & Bumpus, M. F. (2001). Linking parents' work stress to children's and 
adolescents' psychological adjustment. Current Directions in Psychological 
Science, 10, 156-159. 

Crouter, A. C, Perry-Jenkins, M., Huston, T. L., & Crawford, D. E. (1989). The 

influence of work-induced psychological states on behavior at home. Basic and 
Applied Social Psychology, 10, 273-292. 

DeLongis, A, Folkman, S, & Lazarus, R S. (1988). The impact of daily stress on health 
and mood: Psychological and social resources as mediators. Journal of 
Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 486-495. 



108 

Downey, G, Purdie, V., & Schaffer-Neitz, R. (1999). Anger transmission from mother 
to child: A comparison of mothers in chronic pain and well mothers. Journal of 
Marriage and the Family, 61, 62-73. 

Dunning, D., Meyerowitz, J. A., & Holzberg, A. D. (1989). Ambiguity and self- 
evaluation: The role of idiosyncratic trait definitions in self-serving assessments 
of ability. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 1082-1090. 

Fincham, F. D., & Bradbury, T. N. (1992). Assessing attributions in marriage: The 

Relationship Attribution Measure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 
62, 457-468. 

Geiss, S. K., & O'Leary, K. D. (1981). Therapist ratings of frequency and severity of 
marital problems. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 7, 515-520. 

Gilbert, D. T., Pelham, B. W., & Krull, D. S. (1988). On cognitive busyness: When 
person perceivers meet persons perceived. Journal of Personality and Social 
Psychology, 60, 509-517. 

Hammond, K. R (2000). Judgments under stress. New York: Oxford University Press. 

Holahan, C. J., & Moos, R. H. (1990). Life stressors, resistance factors, and improved 
psychological functioning: An extension of the stress resistance paradigm. 
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 909-917. 

Holtzworth-Munroe, A., & Jacobson, N. S. (1985). Causal attributions of married 

couples: when do they search for causes? What do they conclude when they do? 
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48, 1398-1412. 

Jacobson, N. S., Schmaling, K. B., & Holtzworth-Munroe, A. (1987). Component 

analysis of behavioral marital therapy: 2-year follow-up and prediction of relapse. 
Journal of Marriage and Family Therapy, 13, 187-195. 

Karney, B. R. & Bradbury, T. N. (1995). The longitudinal course of marital quality and 
stability: A review of theory, method, and research. Psychological Bulletin, 118, 
3-34. 

Karney, B. R, & Coombs, R. H. (2000). Memory bias in evaluations of close 

relationships: Consistency or improvement? Personality and Social Psychology 
Bulletin, 26, 959-970. 

Karney, B. R., McNulty, J. K, & Frye, N. E. (2001). A social-cognitive perspective on 
the maintenance and deterioration of relationship satisfaction. In J.H. Harvey & 
A.E. Wenzel (Eds), Close romantic relationships: Maintenance and enhancement 
(pp. 195-214). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. 



109 

Knee, C. R. (1998). Implicit theories of relationships: Assessment and prediction of 

romantic relationship initiation, coping and longevity. Journal of Personality and 
Social Psychology, 74, 360-370. 

Krokoff, L. J., Gottman, J. M, & Roy, A. K. (1988). Blue-collar and white-collar marital 
interaction and communication orientation. Journal of Social and Personal 
Relationships, 5, 201-221. 

Larson, R. W, & Almeida, D. M. (1999). Emotional transmission in the daily lives of 
families: A new paradigm for studying family process. Journal of Marriage and 
the Family, 61, 5-20. 

Larson, R. W, & Gillman, S. (1999). Transmission of emotions in the daily interactions 
of single-mother families. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 61, 21-37. 

Lavee, Y., McCubbin, H. I., & Olson, D. H. (1987). The effect of stressful life events 

and transitions on family functioning and well-being. Journal of Marriage and the 
Family, 49, 857-873. 

Linville, P. W. (1987). Self-complexity as a cognitive buffer against stress-related illness 
and depression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 663-676. 

Locke, H. J., & Wallace, K. M. (1959). Short marital adjustment prediction tests: Their 
reliability and validity. Marriage and Family Living, 21, 251-255. 

Martin, L. L., Seta, J. J, & Crelia, R. A. (1990). Assimilation and contrast as a function 
of people's willingness and ability to expend effort in forming an impression. 
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 27-37. 

McCubbin, H. I., & Patterson, J. M. (1983). Family transitions: Adaptation to stress. In 
H. I. McCubbin & C. R. Figley (Eds), Stress and the family: Coping with 
normative transitions (Vol. 1, pp. 5-25). New York: Brunner/Mazel. 

McNulty, J. K., & Karney, B. R. (2001). Attributions in marriage: Integrating specific 
and global evaluations of close relationships. Personality and Social Psychology 
Bulletin, 27,_943-955. 

Murray, S. L., & Holmes, J. G. (1999). The (mental) ties that bind: Cognitive structures 
that predict relationship resilience. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 
77, 1228-1244. 

Murray, S. L., Holmes, J. G., & Griffin, D. W. (1996). The benefits of positive illusions: 
Idealization and the construction of satisfaction in close relationships. Journal of 
Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 79-98. 



110 

Neff, L. A., & Karney, B. R. (in press). Self-evaluation motives in close relationships: A 
model of global enhancement and specific verification. To appear in P. Noller & 
J. A. Feeney (Eds), The intricacies of marital interaction. New York: Plenum. 

O'Brien, T. B., & DeLongis, A (1997). Coping with chronic stress: An interpersonal 
perspective. In B. H. Gottlieb (Ed), Coping with Chronic Stress (pp. 161-190). 
New York : Plenum Press. 

Osgood, C. E., Suci, G. J., & Tannenbaum, P. H. (1957). The measurement of meaning. 
Urbana: University of Illinois Press. 

Pelham, B. W., & Swann, W. B. (1989). From self-conceptions to self-worth: On the 
sources and structure of global self-esteem. Journal of Personality and Social 
Psychology, 57, 672-680. 

Raudenbush, S. W., Brennan, R T, & Barnett, R. C. (1995). A multivariate hierarchical 
model for studying psychological change within married couples. Journal of 
Family Psychology, 9, 161-174. 

Repetti, R L. (1989). Effects of daily workload on subsequent behavior during marital 
interaction. The roles of social withdrawal and spouse support. Journal of 
Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 651-659. 

Repetti, R. L., & Wood, J. (1997). Families accommodating to chronic stress: 

Unintended and unnoticed processes. In B. H. Gottlieb (Ed), Coping with 
chronic stress (pp. 190-220). New York: Plenum Press. 

Robins, R. W. & Beer, J. S. (2001). Positive illusions about the self: Short-term benefits 
and long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 340-352. 

Robinson, E. A, & Jacobson, N. S. (1987). Social learning theory and family 

psychopathology: A Kantian model in behaviorism? In T. Jacob (Ed), Family 
interaction and psychopathology (pp. 1 17-162). New York: Plenum. 

Ruvolo, A. P., & Veroff, J. (1997). For better or for worse: Real-ideal discrepancies and 
the marital well-being of newlyweds. Journal of Social and Personal 
Relationships, 14, 223-242. 

Showers, C, Abramson, L., & Hogan, M. (1998). The dynamic self: How the content and 
structure of the self-concept change with mood. Journal of Personality and Social 
Psychology, 75, 478-493. 

Showers, C, & Kevlyn, S. (1999). Organization of knowledge about a relationship 
partner: Implications for liking and loving. Journal of Personality and Social 
Psychology, 76, 958-971 . 



Ill 

Showers, C, & Kling, K. C. (1996). Organization of self-knowledge: Implications for 
recovery from sad mood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 578- 
590. 

Tesser, A., & Beach, S. R H. (1998). Life events, relationship quality, and depression: 
An investigation of judgment discontinuity in vivo. Journal of Personality and 
Social Psychology, 74, 36-52. 

Thompson, A., & Bolger, N. (1999). Emotional transmission in couples under stress. 
Journal of Marriage and the Family, 61, 38-48. 

Turner, R. J., & Wheaton, B. (1997). Checklist measurement of stressful life events. In S. 
Cohen, R. C. Kessler, & L. U. Gordon. (Eds), Measuring stress: A guide for 
health and social scientists, (pp. 29-58): New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 

Whiffen, V. E., & Gotlib, I. H. (1989). Stress and coping in maritally distressed and 

nondistressed couples. Journal of Personal and Social Relationships, 6, 327-344. 






BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 
Lisa Neff graduated summa cum laude with a double major in psychology and 
English from the University of Dayton in 1996. She then received the degree of Master 
of Arts in general psychology from Wake Forest University in 1998. The following fall, 
she began her doctorate work in the social psychology program at the University of 
Florida. While in her doctoral program, Lisa developed a program of research examining 
the maintenance and deterioration of marital satisfaction under the supervision of 
Dr. Benjamin Karney. Specifically, Lisa examined how spouses may reconcile a positive 
global impression of the marriage with the negative specific beliefs and experiences that 
inevitably arise. Lisa was granted the degree of Doctor of Philosophy from the 
University of Florida on May 4, 2002. Her dissertation focused on the influence of 
negative external stressors on relationship processes. 









112 



I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to 
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, 
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 



Benjamin R. Karney, Chairman 
Assistant Professor of Psychology 




of Psychology 

I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to 
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in sco£e and quality, 
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 




Dolores Albarracin 

Assistant Professor of Psychology 

I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to 
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, 
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 







Barry "R. Schlenker 
Professor of Psychology 



I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to 
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, 
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 




Greg J. Neimeyer 
Professor of Psychology 






I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to 
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, 
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 



aaa£^@A> 



,/w\ 



James J. Algina 
professor of Educational Psychology 



This dissertation was submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Department of 
Psychology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and to the Graduate School and 
was accepted as partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of 
Philosophy. 

May 2002 



Dean, Graduate School 




im3 



UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 



3 1262 08557 1817